Heeding the siren call of modernism, the American Marsden Hartley made the almost obligatory pilgrimage to Paris but found Berlin more to his liking. The Kaiser’s capital-“so alive and ultra modern”-appealed to Hartley the outsider and voyeur. Curiously, the artist who delighted in the glittering spectacle of imperial power was also deeply troubled by the soulless greed and violence of industrial society. For Hartley, the cure for a corrupt civilization was to be found in the rapturous embrace of the “primitive.” Where European artists drew inspiration in the tribal arts of Africa, Hartley felt a mystical attraction to the culture of the American Indian.
Indian Fantasy is just that, a romantic fantasy upon a Native American theme. The composition is an ascending arrangement of Pueblo and Plains Indian motifs and symbols, presided over by a totemic eagle with wings outstretched against a rising (or setting) sun. The strict symmetry and the use of bold, flat patterns heighten the mystical character of the image. Here, Hartley conjures a redemptive vision of earthly and spiritual peace, all the more poignant for being painted just before the outbreak of World War I.
tags: animals, pattern, symbolism, shapes