Born in Rutherford, New Jersey, in 1870, John Marin spent much of his youth in Weehawken. He attended the Stevens Institute of Technology for a year and worked for several architectural firms before deciding to do freelance work, designing houses in New Jersey. This early experience as an architect arguably contributed to the important role played by architectural themes in his paintings and watercolors.
From 1899 to 1901, Marin attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, studying with Thomas Pollock Anshutz and William Merritt Chase for two years. He completed his artistic training at the Art Students League in New York and on a six-year European sojourn beginning in 1905. During his extended stay in Europe, Marin briefly attended the atelier of Auguste J. Delecluse in Paris and made sketching trips to Holland, Belgium, England, and Italy. In 1910, he visited the Austrian Tyrol, where he painted a series of watercolors that are distinguished by a silver-bluish tonality and large, soft, indistinct forms. In these works, he achieved a remarkable translucence, which became one of his distinguishing trademarks.
In 1909, Marin held his first one-man exhibition at Alfred Stieglitz’s gallery, “291.” The photographer Edward Steichen, whom Marin had met through the painter Arthur B. Carles, introduced him to Stieglitz. Marin’s and Stieglitz’s association would last nearly forty years; Stieglitz’s support, in both philosophical and financial respects, was essential to Marin’s prolific output and popularity. Later, Marin would show his works at Stieglitz’s three exhibition spaces – the Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession, the Intimate Gallery, and An American Place.
After returning permanently to the United States in 1911, Marin continued to portray both city and country views. Drawing on his recent exposure to modern European artistic trends, including Cézanne’s oeuvre, Fauvism, and Cubism, he altered his style, making it bolder and more aggressive. His depictions of skyscrapers with their arrow-like configurations emphasize the impact of the dynamic forces of the city. In 1912, he painted views of the Brooklyn Bridge, making the structural elements quiver as though defying the
laws of gravity. These brilliant works suggest a sense of the dizzying excitement about the structures that were being erected and recall works by the Orphic Cubist painter Robert Delaunay.
At age forty-four, Marin married Marie Hughes of New York, whom he had met in Paris. From 1914 on, they spent almost every summer on the coast of Maine. In 1915, Marin bought sight-unseen an island at Small Point with $1200, which he had earned from sales at Stieglitz’s gallery. He named it “Marin Island” but never lived there because it had no fresh water. The seascapes and landscapes he painted on the island are characterized by a state of flux – moving clouds, circulation of air, open sea, and craggy rocks. In the 1920s, his work began to reveal the tenets of Cubism, and he developed a Cubist-inspired device, the frame-within-a-frame or “enclosure form,” to demarcate the boundaries of his images.
During the 1930s, Marin began to work primarily in oils and arrived at a markedly more fluid approach. He learned to isolate movement into large planes of color and often employed a more somber palette in his seascapes. He continued to retain direct references to nature, but emphasized the sensation that nature evoked rather than offering a literal translation. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, Marin continued to demonstrate his inventive nature in the lyrical oils and watercolors he produced, works that seem to be in a constant state of evolution.
By his mid-sixties, Marin had achieved great acclaim as an American landscape painter. In 1936, he had a retrospective show at the Museum of Modern Art and, in 1947, his work traveled to Washington, DC, Minneapolis and Boston. He is represented in the collections of more than fifty American museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Brooklyn Museum, all in New York; the Cleveland Museum of Art; the Art Institute of Chicago; the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; and the Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
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