[Four Bathers at Old Orchard Beach]
(Lewiston, ME, January 4, 1877 - September 2, 1943, Ellsworth, ME)
For 1955.1.51: This drawing, perhaps the most schematic of the entire series, shows one seated figure leaning on one arm and three men in the waves, two of whom are depicted with only single lines for arms, back and torso and an unattached circle for a head.
For series (MHMC 1955.1.51-1955.1.77): Hartley first visited Old Orchard Beach, Maine in 1928. Twelve years later, in August 1940, he returned to the amusement park beach town, a vacation spot especially popular with French Canadian tourists. He also visited nearby Kennebunk, the high-toned community with grand homes owned by wealthy summer residents. He wrote to Isabel Lachaise that he much preferred "the commonness of Old Orchard Beach, full of lovely young people." There, he told her, he was gathering material for his paintings.
There is a total of twenty-six figure drawings (1955.1.51-1955.1.77) that Hartley most likely did at Old Orchard Beach in the summer of 1940. Seventeen of them (1955.1.51-1955.1.67) are small in size (approximately 4 ½ x 7 inches); possibly from the same small sketchbook with a spiral binding. The predominate subject is either single or small group figure studies of muscular men and wrestlers, mostly males with an occasional female or pair of man and woman. Most of the figures are clearly situated on the beach; for others there is no spatial context. In a second group of drawings, all from a tan sketchbook with paper measuring 11 ? x 9 in., (thus larger in size), feature single, very muscular men (with the exception of a back and profile view of two men) alone on the page, with no spatial contest.
The beach, of course, is the perfect setting for studying the human body: bodies are nearly nude, muscles, buttocks, genitals are exposed or scantily covered. Physique is the focus, with no attention to faces—even eliminating the head in two (1955.1.52 and 1955.1.53). His intention is to catch the variety of poses presented in this kind of setting: people sitting, leaning, standing, kneeling, and lying, from behind or frontal, arms and legs bent or splayed. Only a few include beach paraphernalia (umbrellas, life buoy, a chair).
One measure of the importance of this series for Hartley is the fact that all seventeen of the small studies are signed by him with his initials, one (1955.1.54) is signed, dated and titled Old Orchard Beach, Maine /MH. 40" and another (1955.1.60) is titled "Wrestler." The majority of his drawings are not titled, signed, nor dated. Many in the series can now be identified as preliminary studies for specific paintings. The overall style of the series is typical for quick sketch figure studies: minimalist; schematic, linear, with only occasional shading to add modelling to bodies.
The figure—the male and female body, whether in a secular or religious context—is a dominate subject during the last years of Hartley's life as demonstrated by the fact two-thirds of the drawings in the MHMC are figure studies. While there are no nudes, all have minimal clothing. The emphasis is on the body itself, and monumentality pervades. It is as almost like Hartley coming out in his own home state by unabashedly turning to the delights of the human figure at the age of 61—as though he heard anew the fervor of Walt Whitman, the poet who had so influenced his thinking during his emerging years, "I sing the I sing the body electric," the bard exclaims in one of the most famous passages of Leaves of Grass as he describes the "play of masculine muscle" in swimmer and wrestler, rower and horseman:
The love of the body of man or woman balks account, the body itself balks account,
That of the male is perfect, and that of the female is perfect.
The expression of the face balks account,
But the expression of a well-made man appears not only in his face,
It is in his limbs and joints also, it is curiously in the joints of his hips and wrists,
It is in his walk, the carriage of his neck, the flex of his waist and knees, dress does not hide him,
The strong sweet quality he has strikes through the cotton and broadcloth,
To see him pass conveys as much as the best poem, perhaps more,
You linger to see his back, and the back of his neck and shoulder-side. . . .
The swimmer naked in the swimming-bath, . . .
The bending forward and backward of rowers in row-boats, the horseman in his saddle, . . .
The wrestle of wrestlers, two apprentice-boys, quite grown, lusty, good-natured, native-born, out on the vacant lot at sun-down after work,
The coats and caps thrown down, the embrace of love and resistance,
The upper-hold and under-hold, the hair rumpled over and blinding the eyes;
the play of masculine muscle through clean-setting trowsers and waist-straps, . . .
The natural, perfect, varied attitudes, the bent head, the curv’d neck and the counting;
Such-like I love—I loosen myself, pass freely, am at the mother’s breast with the little child,
Swim with the swimmers, wrestle with wrestlers, march in line with the firemen, and pause, listen, count.