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John Marin (American, 1870–1953)

About this artist

Source: Oxford University Press

American painter and printmaker. He attended Stevens Institute in Hoboken, NJ, and worked briefly as an architect before studying at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia from 1899 to 1901 under Thomas Pollock Anshutz and Hugh Breckenridge (1870–1937). His education was supplemented by five years of travel in Europe where he was exposed to avant-garde trends. While abroad, he made etchings of notable and picturesque sites, for example Campanile, S Pietro, Venice (1907; see Zigrosser, no. 57), which were the first works he sold.

Marin returned permanently to the USA in 1911, settling in New York and devoting the rest of his long career to painting views of the city and country. His art initially reflected the impact of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism. During the next decade he first moved towards a modernist artistic statement, seen in his views of New York and nearby Weehawkin, New Jersey. The Weehawkin series (watercolour, 1910; New York, Met.) reveals a Fauvist handling and choice of colour, and an abstract sense of design, while the New York images demonstrate the artist’s willingness to fragment and distort a scene for expressive purposes. Marin was one of the first artists to convey the 20th-century city in modern pictorial terms: in works such as Brooklyn Bridge (watercolour, c. 1912; New York, Met.) the urban landscape seems to erupt; buildings and streets break apart, heaving under the pressure of the frenetic pace and congestion of city life.

During the 1920s Marin’s handling became even more expressive and abbreviated, at times calligraphic, seen for example in Lower Manhattan (Composing Derived from Top of Woolworth) (watercolour, 1922; New York, MOMA); objects were further simplified into fractured coloured planes; directional lines suggesting movement were added and borders painted and fragmented. His city images underwent a major transformation in the 1930s, as the figures increased in scale and became more important elements in the scenes, demonstrated in Untitled (Figures in Downtown New York City) (drawing, 1932; artist’s estate, see 1971 exh. cat., p. 58). His style did not change substantially thereafter, although it became increasingly expressionistic.

The natural landscape was equally important to Marin. Both in his art and in his writings he revealed a unique sensitivity to and love of nature. He travelled frequently, visiting New Jersey, upstate New York, New England, New Mexico and Canada, to capture the nuances of varied moods in response to nature. Stylistically his landscapes parallel the evolution of the city views. They culminate in what have become perhaps his best-known works, the images of the sea along the Maine coast that he created during the 1930s, for example Composition, Cape Split, Maine, No. 3 (oil on canvas, 1933; Santa Barbara, CA, Mus. A.); these convey a primeval power.

Although he could be lyrical, Marin brought a rare vigour and intensity to the medium of watercolour. He approached it as both a painting and a graphic medium. He used oils sporadically from the early 1900s, the Weehawkin series including his most extensive early work in the medium. He did not, however, begin to devote a significant amount of his attention to oil painting until the 1930s.

Marin was one of the few early American modernists who received substantial attention and critical praise throughout most of his career. Upon his return from abroad, he became a member of the avant-garde circle centred around Alfred Stieglitz, and his work was shown on a regular basis at Stieglitz’s galleries from 1909. As a result of his first retrospective, held in 1920 at the Daniel Gallery, New York, the collector Ferdinand Howald (1856–1934) became Marin’s first important patron. Marin was also one of the first American artists to be accorded a retrospective exhibition by MOMA (1936), New York.

Ilene Susan Fort
From Grove Art Online

© 2009 Oxford University Press

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