History And Context
Marsden Hartley most likely executed Gardener's Gloves and Shears in 1937, as this was the year Hartley returned to Maine after a long absence from home. Stung by criticism that his work was not truly American in character because of his frequent stays abroad, Hartley was, at this point in his career, making a conscious effort to evoke the feel of his native land and represent something that was distinctly American. The subject of this painting calls to mind an informal existence in the earthy outdoors, and he probably chose it to counter his personal image as a derivative sophisticate.
Despite its initial appearance as an uncomplicated composition, Gardener's Gloves and Shears reveals the artist's ability to create a dynamic, expressive image through direct simplicity. Hartley magnified the objects, making the still life seem unstable. He painted with vigorous brushstrokes in contrasting light and dark colors, a technique that adds drama and vitality to the image.
Hartley's treatment of the motif, derived in part from the influence of Albert Pinkham Ryder, is what most attracted Phillips to Hartley’s art, who had admired this painting in the 1938 Hudson Walker Gallery exhibition of Hartley's Maine paintings. With this show Hartley became regarded by Phillips as well as others as not only a sincerely American painter, but also an artist of great originality.