Marsden Hartley Painting Not Seen for 40 Years Pops Up in Maine Bank Vault

A painting by American modernist Marsden Hartley was recovered in a bank vault after being missing for 40 years.

The painting, "Friend Against the Wind," was completed in 1936 and only exhibited twice, once in New York and later in 1980, when it was last publicly displayed at a Portland, Maine, gallery before being sold to a private collector.

Gail Scott, a Maine art historian who has dedicated a significant portion of her career to Hartley's work, was contacted last year after the collector died. The estate told Scott the painting was in a secured Portland vault to protect against theft.

During the summer, Scott went to see the 12-by-17-inch painting. According to the Portland Press Herald, the recovered artwork was in honor of Hartley's Canadian friends who drowned during a hurricane.

"It took a couple of months, but sure enough, I walked down to the Key Bank in downtown Portland and into the big vault and there was this painting that I had never seen in color and had never seen in person," Scott told the Press Herald.

Scott did not reveal the name of the private collector and is working with the Bates College Museum of Art in Lewiston, Maine, to catalog all of Hartley's works.

Scott and others art scholars knew the painting existed because a 1987 exhibition catalog included a black-and-white photo of the painting.

The discovery of this painting is a step toward recovering roughly 240 of Hartley's 1,650 works that are currently missing. While alive, Hartley considered himself "the painter of Maine."

Marsden Hartley
"Friend Against the Wind," a painting by American modernist Marsden Hartley, was recovered in a Portland, Maine, bank vault after being missing for 40 years. Above, Hartley stands with an unfinished portrait of a little girl. Bradley Smith/CORBIS/Getty Images

"Hartley is increasingly recognized as one of the most significant American modernists of the 20th century," museum director Dan Mills told the Press Herald. "He is also one of the few of his generation and stature who does not have this kind of comprehensive scholarship available."

Scott and the Bates museum are collaborating on the Marsden Hartley Legacy Project to track down his works. The project is being funded by the Horowitz Foundation for the Arts and the New York-based Vilcek Foundation, the newspaper reported.

A native of Lewiston, Hartley was born in 1877 and died in Ellsworth, Maine, in 1943 after traveling extensively. Maine remained a touchstone of his identity throughout his itinerant life and career, according to the Bates museum.

His heirs granted the Hartley Memorial Collection to the museum, which includes the largest collection of his drawings, as well as some of his tools and items from his studio.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.