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Hartley Artworks

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[Study for Flaming American (Swim Champ)]

ca. 1939-1940
Marsden Hartley, American, (Lewiston, ME, January 4, 1877 - September 2, 1943, Ellsworth, ME)

This drawing is one of two studies for the oil painting, Flaming American (Swim Champ), ca. 1939 (Baltimore Museum of Art. The other drawing (Portland Museum of Art, Maine), which is considerably larger in scale (28 x 18 in.) is executed in charcoal and crayon. The subject, a hefty young man in a fisherman's hat, can be traced to the summer of 1939 when Hartley was the guest of Claire Spencer and John Evans at their West Brookville, Maine home and where he met their nephew, Billy Moonan, also a visitor—and a swimming champion at Yale University. Describing him in a letter to his friend, Adelaide Kuntz, Hartley admired his "physically magnificent" body, "alive with youthful freshness." Hartley took several photographs of Moonan (MH Collection, Yale University), and it is interesting to note that although Moonan is clearly athletic, Hartley's drawings and the painting show a much bulkier figure and rendered in the "archaic" style of his other figure paintings of that period. In the oil version, the figure wears a blue swimsuit with a white waistband and matching blue athletic shoes with white soles and tops. Also, like other late figure and still life paintings, the swim champ is isolated against a dark red-brown ground, the weight of his muscular body counterbalanced by the flatness and depthless space he inhabits.

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