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Calla Lillies, about 1928

Marsden Hartley
Calla Lillies, about 1928
American, 1877–1943
oil on canvas
32 x 25.5 inches
(81.28 x 64.77 cm)
1965 University of Notre Dame Purchase Fund

Marsden Hartley was an American painter whose oeuvre was shaped in response to modernist trends in European art. In 1912 he traveled to Paris, Munich, and Berlin to study. He returned to Europe in 1914, after exhibiting at the Armory Show in New York in 1913. He developed a style based on German Expressionism, which he synthesized into an individual visual vocabulary. Early in his career, Hartley began to paint still lifes influenced by Pablo Picasso and Paul Cézanne; this genre would preoccupy him throughout his career.

Calla Lilies originally belonged to the Kurtz family, friends of the artist who were with him in Europe during the late 1920s and early ’30s and who also owned several other works he created during this time. The influence of the Expressionists is evident in this painting. Hartley turns a simple subject—a pot of calla lilies with a broken leaf—into a somewhat sinister plant, its leaves undulating like flames and setting everything into motion, as if on fire