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Lucifer's God Child

ca. 1936-1943
Marsden Hartley (American, 1877-1943)

Notes
The exact meaning of this enigmatic drawing and its accompanying poem are not known, although the references in the poem to the "waves of the sea / as they beat on the rocks" and the flame-like hair of the man could link this drawing to Hartley's time in Nova Scotia in 1936. In his poetic narrative, Cleophas and His Own: A North Atlantic Tragedy, Hartley relates the story of his experience with the Mason Family that summer and fall—and the drowning of the two Mason brothers and their cousin in September 1936, as they returned by boat to their island home from a night on the town but in a wild hurricane. Describing Adelard (his fictitious name for Alty Mason), Hartley says, "his smoke black hair stands six inches above his low forehead"—it "stood on end like fury-fire," as also depicted in Hartley's memorial painting, Adelard, the Drowned Master of the Phantom, 1938-39, Frederick Weisman Museum of Art, Minneapolis MN) and in the three preparatory drawings for that painting in the Bates Memorial Collection (1955.1.94; 1955.1.95; and 1955.1.96).

Lucifer is a Latin name for the planet Venus, known as the morning star. In classical mythology, Lucifer is the son of Aurora (dawn) and portrayed as a god bearing a torch—the bringer of light. Whether Hartley's poem, especially the line "the firmament of the city" references these classical associations with Lucifer is intriguing and also suggested in a related painting (whereabouts unknown), Adelard Ascending, 1943 (a symbolic painting showing a winged and crucified Adelard rising over is island home) in which his head is topped with tiers of torch-like flames.

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