Born and raised in Maine, Marsden Hartley began his career as a landscape painter. An avid reader of Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Walt Whitman, Hartley infused his paintings with psychological and spiritual intensity. He traveled to Europe, where he was influenced by Cubism, Expressionism, and Wassily Kandinsky’s spiritual writings about art. Drawing upon these influences in his work, Hartley’s paintings expanded the scope of modern painting in the United States.
Roberto Sebastián Antonio Matta Echaurren was born in Santiago, Chile. After studying architecture, he went to Paris for an apprenticeship with architect Le Corbusier. He eventually left to join the Surrealist movement; he began painting fantastic, imaginative landscapes in 1938. In 1939 Matta fled to New York, where he socialized with other Surrealist émigrés including Marcel Duchamp, whom he met in 1944 and highly admired, and became a leading figure in the New York art world.
Yves Tanguy was born in Paris in 1900. He traveled the world as a merchant marine, and he began sketching café scenes after his service. In 1924 he moved into a house that would become a gathering place for the Surrealists. Although he lacked formal training, Tanguy developed as an artist, presenting his first solo exhibition in Paris in 1927. He met the artist Kay Sage in 1939, and together the couple traveled to the American Southwest and settled in Woodbury, Connecticut.
The Saint Louis–born painter Albert Bloch moved his family from New York City to Germany in 1909, starting the most transformative period of his artistic career. There he befriended the modernist artists Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc, who influenced his development in painting, drawing, and printmaking. Kandinsky invited Bloch to become the only American artist to exhibit with Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), the important Munich-based group that focused on art’s spiritual aspects.
Selden Connor Gile was a leader of the San Francisco Bay Area group of artists known as the Society of Six. Critics found his work difficult to describe, with one Oakland writer offering, “Gile is as much an expressionist as an impressionist, and perhaps more of a colorist than either. A ‘joyist’—that’s it. A better term than any of the verbal tags that we apply to artists.”
William Sergeant Kendall studied under Thomas Eakins at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. He went on to work as a painting instructor for several decades, eventually serving at the dean of fine arts at Yale University from 1913 to 1922. Many of Kendall’s paintings portray intimate family relationships between mothers and daughters, and he frequently used his wife, Margaret, and daughters Elisabeth, Beatrice, and Alison as models.
Rockwell Kent was a multidisciplinary artist. He studied painting with William Merritt Chase and architecture at Columbia University. During his lifetime, he worked as a dairy farmer, ship’s carpenter, and lobsterman, as well as an illustrator and printmaker. Kent set new standards for simplified, modern design with his advertisements for General Electric and Rolls Royce, and he earned praise for his illustrations for a 1930 edition of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick.
Hermann Dudley Murphy was born in Marlborough, Massachusetts, in 1867. After studying at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, he worked as a newspaper and magazine illustrator before traveling to Paris to study at the Académie Julian. In Europe he encountered the Aesthetic movement and the work of James Abbott McNeill Whistler. Murphy began working in a similarly ethereal, dreamy, and Tonalist style. He returned to the United States in 1903, where he became a leading Boston artist.
Nicolai Fechin was born in Kazan, Russia, in 1881. He studied at the Kazan Art School and the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg. He exhibited internationally, capturing the attention of American collectors who tried to bring him to the United States. Fechin’s immigration was delayed by the 1917 Russian Revolution. He finally arrived in New York City in 1923, and in 1927 his family moved to Taos, New Mexico, where he developed a reputation for his vivid portraits of local people.
Arthur Wesley Dow was a leading art theorist and teacher who encouraged artists to prize design and beauty over pure representation. While studying art in France, he discovered a love for landscape painting; he shared this love back in his coastal hometown of Ipswich, Massachusetts, where he founded the Ipswich Summer School of Art. He later experimented with handicrafts and the aesthetics of Japanese printmaking—ideas he shared with students such as Georgia O’Keeffe and Max Weber.