John Marin (1870–1953)

Celebrated painter; considered one of the greatest early American modernists

By Eve Perry

John Marin, noted for his bold watercolor paintings of Manhattan structures and Maine coastal scenes, was one of the influential group of modern artists promoted by Alfred Stieglitz in the early twentieth century.

I. Biography
II. Chronology
III. Collections
IV. Exhibitions
V. Memberships
VI. Notes
VII. Suggested Resources

I. Biography

John Marin belonged to the group of early twentieth century modernists who exhibited frequently at Alfred Stieglitz’s famous New York galleries. Among other American artists promoted by Stieglitz—Georgia O'Keeffe, Arthur Dove, and Marsden Hartley—Marin was an integral player in New York’s rise to prominence as an epicenter of the artistic avant-garde.

Marin studied architecture at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey and worked for a short time as an architect until 1893 when he quit his practice to pursue a career as a painter. He began his fine art studies at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art (1899-01) where he was taught by Thomas P. Anshutz and William Merritt Chase. He later attended the Arts Students League (1902-3) and the Académie Julian in Paris (1905). From 1905 to 1910, while residing in Paris, Marin devoted himself to producing etchings that would eventually constitute a body of 103 plates. As fodder for his imagery, Marin drew on the visual information he gained through his extensive travels to cities throughout Western Europe. It was a period of intense exploration as Marin developed the refined drawing skills gained through his architectural training into his characteristically bold lines and rich surfaces.

While in his mid-30s, Marin’s artistic career gained momentum after meeting Alfred Stieglitz in Paris and later exhibiting at Stieglitz’s gallery “291” in 1909. In 1913 he exhibited at the now legendary Armory Show where he was greatly impacted by the works of the Post-Impressionists and German Expressionists. By 1911, he had returned to the Unites States permanently and took on various architectural landmarks in New York City as his subjects: the Municipal Building, St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Woolworth Building and the Brooklyn Bridge. Rather than depicting the structures through accurate representation, Marin’s aim was to capture the dynamism and rhythms of the city, particularly the tensions or opposing “weights” that he felt existed all around him: “There will be all sorts of movement and rhythm beats, one-two-three, two-two-three, three-one-one, all sorts, all seen and expressed in color weights.” Marin’s images from this era are distinctly modernist in their expressiveness, and by the late 1920s a strong influence of European modernism, particularly Cubism, began to manifest in his work.

For most of his life, Marin lived in Cliffside, New Jersey and spent his summers in Maine. In Small Point and later Stonington and Deer Isle, Marin produced seascapes and landscapes based on his direct observation. In many of his compositions he employed a kind of frame within a frame technique that was likely derived from James Abbot McNeil Whistler whose work greatly influenced Marin at various points in his career. The enclosed frame, or loosely defined geometric shape, often resulted in increased abstraction, reflecting the artist’s tendency to represent a scene the way it feels rather than appears.

Though he is remembered mainly for his works in watercolor, through which he lent a substantial air to the medium, Marin painted frequently with oil beginning in 1930. In his later oil works, Marin continued to paint in methods more typically used with watercolor, dragging a dry brush across a canvas to create translucent washes and leaving parts of the canvas bare.

Marin’s work attracted critical acclaim throughout his life, and the retrospectives of his work, the first at Daniel Gallery in 1920, brought him widespread fame. He is one of the first American artists to have a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art (1936).

II. Chronology

1872 Born in Rutherford, NJ, December 23
1888 Painted first watercolors at White Lake, NY. Traveled to Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul, Minneapolis and the Mississippi Basin making sketches
1893 Quit architectural practice to pursue painting
1899 Studied at Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art (through 1901)
1902 Studied at Art Students League (through 1903)
1905 Trained at Atelier of August Joseph Delacluse; studied at Académie Julian, Paris
1906 Traveled to Rome, Florence, Venice, London, Amsterdam, Bruges, Antwerp, and Brussels (intermittently through 1909)
1909 First exhibition at Stieglitz’s 291 gallery
1910 Visited the Austrian Tyrol
1911 Returned to U.S.; Painted on Peconic Bay, Long Island, Hudson River and Egremont Plains, MA
1913 Exhibited work in Armory Show
1914 Began spending summers in Maine
1915 Purchased “Marin Island” in Maine
1916 Spent summer at Echo Lake, PA
1918 Spent summer in Rowe, MA
1920 Retrospective at Daniel Gallery, attracted first major patron, Ferdinand Howald
1925 Intimate Gallery opened with an exhibition of Marin’s work
1929 Spent summer in Taos, New Mexico (also summer of 1930)
1934 Purchased property and house on Cape Split at Pleasant Bay where he spent his remaining summers
1936 Retrospective at Museum of Modern Art
1946 Painted in Adirondacks, Keene Valley
1953 Died October 2 in Cape Split, Maine

III. Collections

Amon Carter Museum of Art, TX
Arizona State University, AZ
Art Institute of Chicago, IL
Brooklyn Museum, NY
Cincinnati Art Museum, OH
Columbus Museum of Art, OH
Corcoran Gallery of Art, Wash D.C.
Delaware Art Museum, DE
Denver Art Museum, CO
Fogg Museum of Art, MA
Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY
Museum of Modern Art, NY
Museum of New Mexico, NM
National Museum of American Art, Wash D.C.
New Britain Museum of American Art, CT
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, PA
Philadelphia Museum of Art, PA
Phillips Memorial Gallery, Wash D.C.
San Diego Museum of Art, CA
San Francisco Museum of Art, CA
Toledo Museum of Art, OH
University of North Carolina, NC
University of Rochester, NY
Westmoreland Museum of Art, PA
Whitney Museum of American Art, NY

IV. Selected Exhibitions

1909 Salon des Indépendants, Paris; Salon d'Automne, Paris; 291, New York City; Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art
1910 291, New York City
1911 291, New York City
1913 291, New York City; Armory Show, New York City
1917 Grand Central Palace, Society of Independent Artists, New York City;
1921 Daniel Gallery, New York City (retrospective); Art Institute of Chicago
1922 Montross Gallery, New York City
1924 Metropolitan Museum of Art; Intimate Gallery, New York City
1925 Intimate Gallery, New York City
1930 An American Place, New York City
1931 Phillips Memorial Gallery, Washington, D.C.
1933 Whitney Museum of American Art
1934 Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art
1936 Museum of Modern Art (retrospective)
1939 Downtown Gallery, New York City
1941 Society of Independent Artists
1943 Art Institute of Chicago
1945 Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art
1946 The Whitney Museum of American Art
1947 Boston Institute of Modern Art (retrospective); Phillips Memorial Gallery (retrospective); Walker Art Center (retrospective)
1949 D.H. de Young Memorial Museum (retrospective); Santa Barbara Museum of Art (retrospective); Corcoran Galleries Biennials (through 1953); Los Angeles County Museum of Art (retrospective)
1951 Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art; Munson William Proctor Institute (retrospective)
1953 Houston Museum of Fine Art (retrospective)
1954 Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art; National Institute of Arts and Letters
1962 America House, Berlin; The Corcoran Gallery of Art Washington, D.C.
1963 Dallas Museum of Fine Art; University of Arizona
1985 The Berkshire Museum Pittsfield, MA
2008 Adelson Galleries, New York City

V. Memberships

Associate member of the National Academy of Design

VI. Notes

Dorothy Norman, The Selected Writings of John Marin (New York: Qureshi Press, 2007) p. 119.
Abraham A. Davidson, Early American Modernist Painting (New York : Harper &
Row, c. 1981) p. 60.

VII. Suggested Resources

Davidson, Abraham A. Early American Modernist Painting (New York : Harper &
Row, c. 1981).
Gray, Cleve. ed.: John Marin by John Marin (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1977).
Helm, John. John Marin (New York: Kennedy Graphisc, Inc.; Da Capo Press, 1970).
John Marin (exh. cat., essays by H. McBride, M. Hartley and E. M. Benson, New York,
MOMA, 1936/R 1966).
John Marin: 1870–1953 (exh. cat. by L. Curry, Los Angeles, CA, Co. Mus. A., 1971).
John Marin in New Mexico: 1929 & 1930 (exh. cat. by V. D. Coke, Albuquerque, U. NM, A.
Mus., 1968).
Norman, Dorothy. Ed. The Selected Writings of John Marin (New York: Qureshi Press, 2007).
Reich, Sheldon. John Marin: A Stylistic Analysis and a Catalogue Raisonné (Tucson:
University of Arizona Press, 1970).
Seligman, H. J. ed.: Letters of John Marin (New York: Alfred Stieglitz, 1931).
Zigrosser, Carl. The Complete Etchings of John Marin: Catalogue Raisonné (Philadelphia:
Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1969).

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John Marin