John Marin was one of the first American painters to be shown at Alfred Stieglitz's gallery 291, in 1909. He established his reputation as an abstract watercolorist, and Stieglitz opened almost every season at his galleries with a Marin watercolor exhibition. Unusual for a modernist, Marin's...
John Marin was one of the first American painters to be shown at Alfred Stieglitz's gallery 291, in 1909. He established his reputation as an abstract watercolorist, and Stieglitz opened almost every season at his galleries with a Marin watercolor exhibition. Unusual for a modernist, Marin's work appealed to both an avant-garde and a mainstream audience-for its abstract qualities on the one hand, and its accessibility on the other-and he became one of the most widely respected and popular artists of the first half of the twentieth century. By 1948, at the age of 78, Marin was called by Look magazine America's "Artist No. 1." Marin worked in oils sporadically throughout his early career, only exploring the medium in a sustained way in the late 1920s. He learned to exploit the texture of the oils in much the same way that he had used with watercolor, delighting in the lushness of the thick paint "dragged across the tooth of the canvas," as he put it. His subjects in oil crossed over from watercolor, too, and he would frequently work out similar themes in both media. Marin produced some of his best oils in the mid-1940s, a time of great personal loss for the artist-his wife died in 1945 and Stieglitz, who had been a close friend as well as a supporter, died in 1946. In 1947 Marin began a series of abstract seascapes that pushed the limits of both his medium and of representational art. At the time he said, "Using paint as paint is different from using paint to paint a picture. I'm calling my pictures this year 'Movements in Paint' and not movements of boat, sea or sky, because in these new paintings although I use objects, I am representing paint first of all, and not the motif primarily." He said of the Museum's oil, the last in the series, "I am going to call it Sea or Mountain As You Will. The paint is the thing." This belief in the primacy of paint and the evocative potential of the bare canvas would be fully explored by a younger generation of American artists, including Jackson Pollock and Franz Kline. This text was adapted from Davis, et al., MFA Highlights: American Painting (Boston, 2003) available at www.mfashop.com/mfa-publications.html.
Lower right: Marin 47
The artist; with The Downtown Gallery, New York; to MFA, 1963, purchase.
Tompkins Collection—Arthur Gordon Tompkins Fund
© 2011 Estate of John Marin / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.