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Born in Rutherford, New Jersey, John Marin was raised in Weehawken where from 1910-16 he painted a series of lyrical oil sketches with views across the Hudson River to Manhattan. He attended the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia and the Arts Students League in New York before heading to Europe in 1905 where he gained recognition for his masterful black and white etchings of old-world monuments. In Paris, photog­rapher Edward Steichen introduced him to Alfred Stieglitz who, beginning in 1909 exhibited and dealt his artwork for the next thirty-seven years. With Stieglitz’s endorsement, Marin brilliantly bridged both the first and second periods of American Modernism, and in 1936 was given a retrospective at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. He worked extensively in both watercolor and oil, although he favored the latter throughout the 1920s and 30s. He thrived in urban and rural settings, both as the avant-garde artist in the bustling metropolis of New York as well as the authentic American maverick in rural Maine, where he first summered in 1914.

In the 1930s and earlier, Marin generally emulated in his oil paintings the opacity of his thickly applied gouaches. By the start of the 1940s, however, his style began to change as he started thinning his mediums and painting with broader, more gestural strokes. While leaving larger areas unworked, Marin otherwise attacked his canvases and paper with a jazzy and colorful calligraphy. His Maine scenes (where he continued to spend happy summers) seemed particularly liberated both in their linearity and in the sensual, serpentine fluidity of his paint application. Marin painted many of those coastline compositions near or at one of his favorite spots, a bluff called Cape Split close to the town of Addison. He clearly delineated his horizon line, demarcating sea and sky, fore and background as he evoked the complexity of the surf (My Hell Raising Sea, 1941) and the drama of the sky (Movement – Sea and Sky, 1946).

“The paint is scrubbed on to the canvas quickly, and line is applied with equal impul­siveness. The function of the line is different from that which it had been earlier: it does not outline painted forms or enclose them within interior frames; it does not outline the establishment of a geometric structure or relationship of parts. In an emotional, baroque manner it cuts across the picture, into space and back out to the surface. It is not the earlier rugged painted line that so thoroughly integrated itself with painting: it has become a definitely drawn line, main­taining its identity in regard to the brushed-in areas. {…} Marin again was seeking a new unity of line and color capable of expressing the joyousness of his spirit.” (Reich, Sheldon. John Marin: A Stylistic Analysis and Catalogue Raisonné, Tucson, Arizona, 1970, Vol. I, p. 232)

Edith Halpert, founder of the Downtown Gallery, organized and opened a John Marin exhibition on December 27, 1950. It was the first solo show of his new works ever held at a gallery unassociated with Stieglitz. By this time Marin was enjoying the most notoriety of his career. A poll of two years earlier, conducted by Look magazine of both museum directors and fellow artists, had elected John Marin America’s No. 1 artist. A new generation of artists and critics were examining his work at a time when, late in life, he continued to consistently work in oil. His palpable paint surfaces intensified and drew more attention to themselves than to the abbrevi­ated pictorial structures they informed. When, in 1947, Marin testified to “using paint as paint” he foreshadowed what soon came to be an aesthetic ethos within vanguard art circles, a notion which spawned one of the great dialectics of contempo­rary art. John Marin died in 1953 in Addison, Maine, near his beloved Cape Split.

In 1962, The White House Historical Association acquired Marin, The Circus No. 1, 1952. Today, Marin's paintings are represented in several important public institutions, including in New York at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, in Washington D.C. at the National Gallery of Art and the Phillips Collection, and at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester, the Fogg Art Museum in Cambridge, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The largest collection of John Marin's paintings, watercolors, drawings, etchings, and photographs were donated in 1973 by the Artist’s son to the Colby College Museum of Art in Waterville, Maine.

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