El Santo, 1919
Marsden Hartley (1877-1943)
oil on canvas
Anonymous gift from a friend of Southwest art, 1919
In the aftermath of World War I, modern artists like Marsden Hartley sought an ap-proach to painting that could express an American aesthetic. After attending Pueblo dances, Hartley began to see these performances as America's original art forms. Building on ideas pioneered by Natalie Curtis in The Indian's Book, Hartley clarified his ideas about the aesthetics of Native American art and dance in a series of essays. Published in Art and Archaeology, El Palacio, Dial, and The Nation, these articles influenced attitudes among the modern artists associated with the Santa Fe-Taos Art Movement.
In the context of Hartley’s belief in the aesthetic value of indigenous objects, his painting El Santo takes on a progressive outlook. Rather than interpreting this painting as a still life composed of studio curios, El Santo presents these Native American and Hispanic objects as works of art that should be appreciated for their aesthetic value. In short, El Santo is an example of art about art.