Although Duncan Phillips never actually met Marsden Hartley, he had the impression of him as "an ardent...soul" with outstanding abilities as both painter and critic. Phillips considered Hartley’s paintings of Maine in particular "a personal and powerful contribution to the outstanding traditions of American art--romantic mysticism and robust realism." He also praised Hartley’s book Adventures in the Arts (1921) for its thoughtful observations about the primitive art of the American Indian, the naive style of Henri Rousseau, and the pioneering work of Cézanne, Ryder, and Homer. While Phillips viewed Hartley's critical essays as always "true to his...rich emotional nature," he thought the artist's work between 1910 and 1930 wavered in artistic intent. He believed that Hartley's talents were diminished by excessive intellectual aestheticism, and for this reason, Phillips considered him a less distinguished genius of American modernism than other artists Phillips admired, particularly Arthur Dove and John Marin.
Phillips did agree with other critics in greatly valuing Hartley's paintings of Maine’s scenery. For Phillips, these subjects "stirred [the artist's] emotions….” Although Hartley's early, muted impressionistic portrayals of Maine mountainsides contrast markedly with his late, rough expressive depictions of the New England wilderness and coast, both styles reflect his strong attraction to his native surroundings. Phillips asserted that Hartley's "self knowledge and his accolades would have come to him earlier had he … kept close to the native forests and seacoasts of New England …”
After viewing Hartley’s 1938 exhibition of Maine subjects, Phillips considered the works to be the artist’s first truly successful paintings. In 1944 he wrote: "Suddenly and with dramatic intensity Hartley had come into a command of composition and a sonorous eloquence of shapes, colors and textures." Phillips had five of these "powerful and personal and wholly American" paintings sent to him the following year, and from them purchased Sea View, New England, 1934; Gardener's Gloves and Shears, ca. 1937; and Off to the Banks, between 1936 and 1938. During the next few years Phillips acquired three more New England scenes---Wood Lot, Maine Woods, 1939; Off the Banks at Night, 1942, and Wild Roses, 1942. In these works, Phillips recognized the influence of Ryder's spiritualism and Homer's rugged realism and felt that Hartley had "reverted to an almost primitive Yankee saltiness."
Phillips held a retrospective of Hartley's work at the museum in 1943, shortly after the artist's death, preceding the Museum of Modern Art's major Hartley exhibition in 1944. Phillips displayed works from what he considered to be the strongest periods of Hartley’s artistic career, including an early Maine mountain scene After Snow, ca. 1908, along with his late works. In his catalogue essay, Phillips concluded that Hartley had "righted his course in mid-channel…. In the end Hartley stands out as a profoundly, a resonantly American painter."