Artwork Detail

The Iron Cross
1915
American, 1877–1943
Oil on canvas
47 1/4 x 47 1/4 "
University purchase, Bixby Fund, 1952
WU 3840
Highlights
The American modernist painter Marsden Hartley never experienced World War I as a soldier, yet he celebrated the German patriotism he witnessed during the early war years while living in Berlin. In October 1914 Hartley was deeply shaken by the death of his partner, the German officer Karl von Freyburg. The Iron Cross, titled after the German military award won by von Freyburg, is one of a group of Hartley’s paintings known as the war images. In these works Hartley pays tribute to his friend through stylized and abstracted symbols and regalia of a soldier’s uniform and other military pageantry. A modern form of portraiture that does not visualize the physical features of the subject, this work employs primary colors, geometric shapes, and patterns to commemorate the individual through an abstracted and planar vocabulary recalling Cubism as well as Constructivism.