Marsden Hartley (American, 1877–1943)
Oil on canvas
68 1/4 x 41 3/8 in. (173.4 x 105.1 cm)
Alfred Stieglitz Collection, 1949 (49.70.42)
Hartley painted his most startlingly advanced abstractions during the first years of World War I while living in Berlin (March 1914December 1915). The War Motifs, his German military series, are intensely powerful canvases in an Expressionist vein; they reflect not only his revulsion at the wartime destruction, but also his fascination with the energy and pageantry that accompanied the carnage. Portrait of a German Officer, painted in November 1914, shows Hartley's assimilation of both Cubism (the collage-like juxtaposition of visual fragments and the hieratic structuring of geometric shapes) and German Expressionism (the coarse brushwork and the dramatic color). The condensed mass of images (badges, flags, medals) evokes a collective psychological and physical portrait of the officer. There are also specific references to Hartley's close friend Karl von Freyburg, a young cavalry officer who had recently been killed in action: K.v.F. are his initials, 4 was his regiment number, and 24 his age.