History And Context


Executed the year before Marsden Hartley’s death, the painting Wild Roses at first sight appears to be an unlikely subject for him, as he did not typically paint sweet still lifes. However, the painting probably refers to memorial services held annually in Lunenberg, Nova Scotia, for fishermen lost at sea. During these services funerary wreaths of roses are thrown into the sea. In 1936, Hartley attended such a ceremony to commemorate the deaths of two close friends who had drowned off the Nova Scotia coast. In subsequent years, the deaths of these two young men seemed to haunt Hartley’s pictures. Although portraying the roses in a bouquet, not a wreath, removed them from the specific association with the memorial service, images of these flowers were deeply personal and poignant to Hartley as symbols of death.

In Wild Roses the bouquet dominates its plain, brick-red background. The white paper enfolding the flowers serves as a foil for the blossoms. The dramatic color contrasts, vibrant hues, and stark simplicity contribute to the painting’s compelling effect.

More Works by Marsden Hartley In the Collection


After Snow
Marsden Hartley
ca. 1908
Off to the Banks
Marsden Hartley
between 1936 and 1938
Wild Roses
Marsden Hartley
1942

Off the Banks at Night
Marsden Hartley
1942
Wood Lot, Maine Woods
Marsden Hartley
1939
Gardener's Gloves and Shears
Marsden Hartley
ca. 1937

Mountain Lake--Autumn
Marsden Hartley
ca. 1910
Sea View, New England
Marsden Hartley
1934