University of South Carolina Press, 2002
A collection of previously unpublished correspondence between American artist Marsden Hartley and avant-garde impresario and photographer Alfred Stieglitz, My Dear Stieglitz chronicles a painter’s three-year-plus European pilgrimage before⎯and during the inception of⎯World War I. Beginning with Hartley’s 1912 arrival in Paris, his letters to Stieglitz from this pioneering capital of modern art and world culture provide sweeping accounts of Gertrude Stein’s salons, gossip of Montparnasse cafés filled with poets, writers, artists, and composers, and commentary on paintings by Picasso, Cézanne, and Matisse. Searching for social acceptance as well as artistic growth and inspiration, Hartley reports to Stieglitz on leading galleries such as Ambroise Vollard, Bernheim-Jeune, and Paul Durand-Ruel, while finding solace in art at the Musée du Louvre.
From Germany in early 1913, Hartley writes vibrant letters about the Expressionist artists in Munich, Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc, and their group Der Blaue Reiter. Hartley’s missives quickly become up-to-the-minute exposés on avant-garde trends in Germany with childlike lamentations over the bustling, modern city of Berlin. His glory in Germany turns solemn with the onset of World War I and the death of his close friend, a German officer named Karl von Freyburg⎯a loss vividly depicted in Hartley’s renowned war motif paintings from this period. Steiglitz’s correspondence from New York gives an American point of view of a war in Europe and chronicles exhibitions at “291,” his own gallery for modern art. Although Stieglitz’s letters are less personal than Hartley’s, he shows subtle signs of resentment toward the famous 1913 Armory Show, which usurped his reign over modernism in America.
Closing in late 1915 with Hartley’s return to an America filled with anti-German sentiment and a New York seasoned by the influx of modern art, My Dear Stieglitz provides an intimate perspective on modern art and the human condition during the tempestuous years of the early twentieth century.
John Updike, “A Lone Left Thing,” in The New York Review of Books, February 27, 2003.