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Marsden Hartley

Wild Sea Rose

Marsden Hartley struggled to win both critical approval and some measure of financial stability for much of his career, but in 1941 his former dealer Hudson D. Walker purchased twenty-three paintings and the following year Paul Rosenberg invited him to join his gallery. A series of acclaimed exhibitions followed, and Hartley “was suddenly hailed, after long empty years, as one of America’s most original artists.”

Wild Sea Rose probably dates from the early 1940s and depicts two sea roses (Orphium frutescens) against a brilliant red background. Although the roses are not necessarily adrift, Hartley certainly intended to associate them with the sea as they bloom near the shore. He spent most of the last years of his life by the coast, in Corea, Maine, and the blooms would have been a familiar sight for him. The surprisingly hardy flowers thrive in a saline atmosphere, and Hartley may have considered them a metaphor for his artistic career, which blossomed once he turned his attention to New England.

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