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Painting No. 4 (A Black Horse)

Marsden Hartley, American, 1877 - 1943

Made in Germany, Europe


Oil on canvas

39 1/4 × 31 5/8 inches (99.7 × 80.3 cm)

Curatorial Department:
American Art

* Special Exhibition Galleries, first floor (Dorrance Galleries)

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
The Alfred Stieglitz Collection, 1949

A replica of this work is featured in Inside Out, a series of outdoor exhibitions throughout the region.


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Painting No. 4 pays tribute to Lieutenant Karl von Freyburg, a German cavalryman killed on the western front in October 1914, shortly after the start of World War I. Marsden Hartley, who lived in Berlin from 1913 to 1915, was enamored with the young officer and the regimented pageantry that came with his military position. The loss of von Freyburg dealt a devastating blow to the artist, prompting him to create a series of moving and intricately symbolic paintings. This composition combines the bright colors, flattened space, and simplified forms of modernist painting with allusions to von Freyburg and to Native American cultures, the latter of which Hartley perceived as peaceful when compared to wartime Europe.

Additional information:
  • PublicationPhiladelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections

    This painting was bequeathed to the Museum by Alfred Stieglitz, whose "291" gallery in New York was the focus of early modernism in the United States. It was Stieglitz who gave Marsden Hartley his first one-person show in 1909 and helped finance his trip to Europe in 1912. There Hartley came into contact with the works of Paul Cézanne, Pablo Picasso, and Henri Matisse as well as German Expressionists such as Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc. Hartley made Painting No. 4 while in Germany at the outbreak of World War I. A part of his "Amerika" series, it combines the bright colors, flattened space, and simplified forms of French and German modern painting with symbols loosely drawn from Native American culture. While conveying Hartley's interest in representing spiritual values, the symbolism--such as the horse in front of the tepee flanked by plant forms--intentionally resists precise interpretation. In the face of his immersion in European modernism, his use of Native American motifs underscored Hartley's own American identity. He also spoke of the Native Americans as a gentle race, a counterbalance to European cultures preparing for a world war. John B. Ravenal, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections (1995), p. 311.
  • PublicationTwentieth-Century Painting and Sculpture in the Philadelphia Museum of Art

    An early work the artist painted during a stay in Germany from April 1914 to December 1915, Painting No. 4 (A Black Horse) is part of Hartley's "Amerika" series, which he began during the summer and fall of 1914. In these paintings Hartley incorporated motifs from Native American culture in order to evoke a uniquely American spiritual aesthetic, distinct from the African and Asian sources many of his European colleagues found compelling.

    The black horse, bearing the number eight on its hindquarters, occupies the physical and symbolic center of this painting. Appearing in many of Hartley's paintings from this period, the number eight held universal mystical significance for the artist and also referred specifically to the eightpointed star he observed on royal and military insignia throughout Berlin. Hartley's incorporation of the number eight into his "Amerika" series suggests that his belief in abstract symbols was transcendently cross-cultural. The horse also appeared in Hartley's paintings of both German and Native American themes. Although the image of the horse and rider may have reflected those found in the paintings of his friend Franz Marc, it simultaneously represented the strength and grace of an animal popularly associated with Native American culture.

    As in most of the "Amerika" series, in Painting No. 4 (A Black Horse) Hartley combined bright primary colors and simple geometric forms that extend out to the painted frame. Fish, birds, and flowering trees surround the black horse in an evocation of harmonious growth and fertility. Produced just as war was about to be declared in Europe, this painting and others from the "Amerika" series express Hartley's admiration and longing for a culture he perceived to be nobler and more peaceful. Twentieth Century Painting and Sculpture in the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2000), p. 46.

* Works in the collection are moved off view for many different reasons. Although gallery locations on the website are updated regularly, there is no guarantee that this object will be on display on the day of your visit.

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