While John Marin's watercolors employ loose brushwork and broad swashes of color to suggest vitality and movement, his most well-known etchings incorporate a seemingly spontaneous array of agitated lines, cross-hatchings, and angular forms to convey the bustling energy of the metropolis of New York. Comprising approximately one hundred eighty-five etchings dated 1905 to 1945, Marin's printed oeuvre also includes early atmospheric scenes of European cities and late views of boats on choppy seas.
Trained both as an architect and as an artist, Marin was a superlative draftsman who began to make etchings in Paris in 1905, utilizing a newly acquired press. In trips away from the city, which served as his home base, he gathered imagery from Venice, Amsterdam, and other European centers. In some one hundred scenic etchings made at this time, he experimented with variations in plate tone and other inking techniques to achieve rich lines and surfaces. His practice of sketching directly on the copperplates, as well as his ethereal effects, followed techniques made popular by James McNeill Whistler in the 1880s.
Upon his return to New York in 1911, Marin created his first two etchings of the Brooklyn Bridge, a marvel of Gothic architecture and modern engineering completed in 1883. He returned to this subject again in 1913 when, perhaps influenced by the Armory Show held in New York that year, and by his association with the circle of modernist artists at Alfred Stieglitz's "291" gallery, he introduced an abstracted, Cubist vocabulary, marking the beginning of his mature style. The two prints shown here demonstrate how Marin exploited the linear potential of etching to animate a towering urban structure. He continued to explore the dynamism of the Brooklyn Bridge as a subject in his prints until 1944, creating eighteen images in all.
Publication excerpt from an essay by Jennifer Roberts, in Deborah Wye, Artists and Prints: Masterworks from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2004, p. 119.
The Brooklyn Bridge, a world-renowned symbol of New York City and an icon of technological achievement, has been an attractive subject for artists since its completion in 1883. Marin's etched image presents its pointed cathedral-like arches and strong, steel suspension cables in a bold and heroic fashion. At the same time, the work generates a sense of the hustle and bustle of city life through the dynamic groupings of lines that break up the composition. Brooklyn Bridge (Mosaic) was created two years after Marin returned to New York from Paris, and is an example of how much this American city energized the artist, who found the people, the skyscrapers, and the bridges "alive" and, in their interaction, playing "great music." It is one of a group of six New York etchings made by Marin and published by the photographer and art dealer Alfred Stieglitz. They were shown at his gallery at 291 Fifth Avenue. Stieglitz championed a circle of young American artists and was particularly supportive of Marin.
Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 95.