Born in Lewiston, Maine, Marsden Hartley began his studies at the age of fifteen on a scholarship to the Cleveland School of Art. He went on to study at the Chase School in 1898 and then to the National Academy of Design and the Art Students League in New York in 1900.
Hartley’s first one-man show took place at Alfred Stieglitz’s Little Galleries of the Photosecession. In addition to exhibiting his work, Stieglitz also introduced Hartley to the European Modernism of Matisse, Picasso and Cezanne. Sponsored by Arthur B. Davies and Stieglitz, Hartley went abroad in 1912. He visited France, where he experimented with Fauvism and Cubism. He also traveled and lived in Berlin from 1913 to 1915, creating bold, expressionistic work. After 1918, he began creating abstract landscapes and in 1914 he exhibited with the Blue Rider Group.
After returning to America, Hartley abandoned mysticism for a more abstract approach. He made two trips to New Mexico, where he executed pastels and developed an expressionistic style. In 1921 he returned to Europe where he remained for ten years, often painting recollections of the New Mexico landscape. From 1923 to 1934 he experimented in lithography. Hartley visited Mexico in 1932 and Germany in 1933, returning to Maine in 1934, where he spent the remainder of his life, with the exception of a trip to Nova Scotia in 1936.