Berlin Abstraction

Marsden Hartley

(American; b. Lewiston, Maine, 1877–d. Ellsworth, Maine, 1943)


Berlin Abstraction



Oil on canvas

31 13/16 x 25 1/2 in. (80.8 x 64.8 cm)

Museum Purchase, Gallery Fund

Accession Number: 


Berlin Abstraction is one of more than a dozen deeply symbolic and personal paintings that Hartley produced in 1914–15 in Berlin. The paintings pay tribute to two of his friends in the German military, but especially his companion Karl von Freyburg, a young lieutenant who was killed in action in October 1914. The brilliant, mosaic-like arrangement of symbols and signs refers to elements of military pageantry. Sleeve cuffs and epaulets are joined by more specific motifs, such as the red 4, which refers to Freyburg’s regiment; the checkerboard pattern, symbolizing his love of chess; and the blue-and-white diamond pattern of the Bavarian flag.