Curator’s Pick: The Lost Felice

Marsden Hartley’s The Lost Felice (meaning “lost happiness”) is a painting that I really love. It’s certainly not the most upbeat of pictures, but it is extremely powerful, and is a truly great work. I am always captivated by the painting’s solemnity, intensity, and strange beauty. It was originally envisioned for a seamen’s chapel (never realized), and this painting could have served as the altarpiece; it has a sacred impact for a variety of reasons.

Marsden Hartley, The Lost Felice, c. 1939, Mr. and Mrs. William Preston Harrison Collection

Marsden Hartley, The Lost Felice, c. 1939, Mr. and Mrs. William Preston Harrison Collection

The story behind The Lost Felice is a deeply personal one for Hartley, though I hesitate to tell it. An interesting experiment might be to look at it first, without knowing anything about it, to see how you respond to it. Then, read the whole, tragic story behind the work

I always feel this painting needs to be on its own wall if at all possible, so that a viewer can take it in and contemplate it without too much distraction. It is currently in the American galleries—in the same gallery that holds Thomas Hart Benton’s The Kentuckian.

As a postscript—a year or two ago we had a screening for our American Art Council of the film Cleophas and His Own—an adaptation of Hartley’s narrative about his experience with the family members represented in the painting. Here is the trailer:

Austen Bailly

One Response to Curator’s Pick: The Lost Felice

  1. Ruanna says:

    I fell in love with this painting on a visit to LACMA one day circa 2000. When I mentioned it to my art history professor (UCLA Extension) on a field trip to the museum soon after, I could tell she was impressed, which made me love it even more! I later wrote an English term paper on Hartley and this painting / series of paintings was a big part of it. The last few times I’ve been to the museum I haven’t been able to find it. Maybe next time – hope so – there’s no substitute for seeing it in person. It’s my #1 favorite painting of all time, I suppose. So good to see it and the film clip here!

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