Semester of Graduation

Fall 2019

Degree

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Art History

Document Type

Thesis

Abstract

Most scholars agree on the attraction men held for the artist Marsden Hartley. However, much of the discussion revolves around debates on Hartley’s sexual identity, mainly in the readings of the male subjects in his paintings. Speculating on the nature of Hartley’s sexual practice puts a narrow focus on his work as either evidence for or against Hartley’s homosexuality. The fixed lens of an unspoken homosexual identity waiting to be read into his paintings overlooks important aspects that define queer experience outside of sexual acts. How can we think about queerness in Hartley’s work outside of sexual identity? This thesis argues that investigating Hartley’s depictions of space moves the discussion away from speculating Hartley’s sexual identity and focuses on broader experiences of queerness, such as navigating desire, fantasy, and gender performance. To demonstrate this, I analyze three works made at the end of Hartley’s career: Sustained Comedy—Portrait of an Object (1939), Church at Corea (1941), and “High Spot,” House for me on a Granite Ledge (c. 1940). I explore these works in relationship to Hartley’s other paintings, drawings, and photographs to bolster my discussion of queer space. In addition, I incorporate Hartley’s letters, poetry, and essays, which allows Hartley’s voice to define the parameters of queerness in my discussion of these spaces. The culmination of this research and analysis illuminates artworks on the periphery of scholarship that have attracted little or no attention, and it foregrounds Hartley’s queerness as a complex and lived experience outside of mere sexual acts.

Committee Chair

Spieth, Darius

Available for download on Wednesday, October 14, 2026

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