John Marin 1870 —1953


It is said that John Marin, from earliest boyhood, had the knack of shadowing a certain sense of motion on paper. However, it was not until he was almost thirty years old that he received any formal art training. After high school, he attended the Stevens Institute of Technology for a year, then drifted from job to job. It was decided by his father that he should become an architect, so he spent six frustrating years trying to gain stature in that profession.

Marin was already twenty-nine years old when his aunts, who raised him, admitted that he might as well go to art school since he seemed to be a failure at everything else. At the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where Marin studied for two years, neither the teaching ideas of Thomas Anschutz nor those of William Merritt Chase had a decisive influence on his work. Five years in Paris also seemed to leave a light mark on the direction his style was taking, according to Marin himself.

His work attracted a small market when it was sent to New York, but the turning point in his career was the day in Paris when he met Edward Steichen. When the noted photographer got back to New York in 1909, he handed a few of Marin's exciting watercolors to his good friend Alfred Stieglitz. The legendary Stieglitz gallery at 291 Fifth Avenue was always responsive to advanced forays in art. Stieglitz represented such artists as Charles Demuth, Georgia O'Keeffe, Arthur Dove and Marsden Hartley, all of who became Marin's friends.

From 1909 on, Stieglitz exhibited Marin's work regularly and became the artist's friend and patron. The relationship proved crucial to Marin's career, because with the burden of selling paintings removed by Stieglitz's financial support, the artist was free to develop into his mature style.

Marin left Paris in 1911 and came to New York. In New York, his art moved from Impressionist rendering to more modernist transformations of his chosen subjects. His descriptive, vigorous style and expressionistic spontaneity came about through his excited perception of New York City. Though the urban landscape prompted some of John Marin's most memorable work, he turned to it infrequently - as infrequently as he painted in oil.

For just as his preferred medium was watercolor on paper, the predominant subject matter of his art was nature. Having spent the better part of five years in Europe, once Marin returned home, he never went abroad again, both literally and figuratively in terms of his artistic style. Indeed, the notion of an American artist exploring American themes, intending to establish a distinctively American mode of paintings, was exceedingly important to him.

John I.H. Baur wrote of Marin, "There is no close echo in his work of the defined European movements. He stands as a pioneer of a distinctly American modernism. "An independent spirit, Marin developed his own unique pictorial language. Renaissance perspective was too restricted for Marin and Cubism too scientific. He evolved a crystalline shorthand technique which he used with great certainty to set down the spirit of the moment and with a surging vitality that seemed to deny its poetic derivation. He did not seek to convey geological or meteorological data; rather he summed up a state of primordial drama. His passages of sharp edges and linear violence created a feeling of scale and movement that identified the scene but reconstructed it in a new pictorial syntax.


"Despite Marin's seemingly arbitrary distortion and spontaneously applied color, there was a rational pattern which always seemed to culminate in an equilibrium of forces both physical and psychological." (Van Deren Coke)

In 1929 and 1930 Marin accepted an invitation from Mabel Dodge Luhan to spend the summer at her ranch near Taos. He had been urged to try his hand on this parched and rugged landscape by two of his friends in the Stieglitz circle, Georgia O'Keeffe and Paul Strand. In all he spent seven months there, and created almost one hundred watercolors, painting outdoors or from his car when the weather was too hot. The Southwest enlarged his response to nature and provided him with his third great theme - after the city (New York) and the sea (the Maine coat). The sheer scale of the country impressed and sometimes daunted him. In response Marin painted some of his most freely expressionist watercolors of the plains and canyons and mountains of the Southwest.

Marin went on to master his incomparable style in oils as well as in other media, though it is as one of America's foremost watercolorists that he is particularly celebrated.

His work was shown in the much-chronicled Armory Show of 1913 and, before the next decade was out, Henry McBride ranked him with the "great". In May 1951, ARTnews referred to Marin as the "greatest living American painter". Wide recognition of Marin, during his lifetime and posthumously, is evidenced by the many exhibitions of his work - over 350 exhibitions during his lifetime.

He was honored, in 1924 by a one-man exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and in 1936 by a major retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. In 1942 he was elected to membership by the National Institute of Arts and Letters; the following year, he was accorded the same honor by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. A memorial exhibition in 1955 traveled to several major American museums, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art organized a traveling exhibition in 1970-71.

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View synoptic biography below.

Castorland Landscape (Cloud Forms No.4)

Castorland Landscape (Cloud Forms No.4)
Watercolor on paper

14.25 x 17.75 inches 36.2 x 45.1 cm
Signed and dated

Marin is currently represented in virtually every major museum in the United States. Well up to the time of his death at the age of eighty-three, John Marin kept himself busy at his easel, turning out work as spirited and buoyant as it was at the start. 

Works by John Marin are in the following museums among others:

Arizona State University Art Museum; The University of Arizona Museum of ArtBall State University Museum of Art;Butler Institute of American Art; Chrysler Museum of Art; Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Dallas Museum of Art; Everson Museum Of Art; High Museum of Art; National Gallery of VictoriaNeuberger Museum of Art; Grey Art Gallery, New York UniversityPhoenix Art Museum; Smithsonian American Art Museum; The Columbus Museum-Georgia; Nelson-Atkins Museum of ArtPhillips Collection, Washington DC and Whitney Museum of American Art

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