John Marin 1870-1953

Apple Blossoms, Saddle River, New Jersey

  • 22 1/8 x 28 1/16 inches (56.2 x 71.3 cm)
  • Oil on canvas
  • Signed and dated lower right: Marin / 52
  • 1952

Why We Love It

Painted in 1952, only one year before the artist’s death, this work is a marvelous example of his abstracted and dynamic style. Marin captures the light and vibrant feel of a spring landscape with brilliant dabs of white, red, and green for the apple trees and bold dashes of blue in the sky. This is an excellent opportunity to own a very late work by one of the 20th century’s most important modernist painters.

The Value

Marin was one of America’s most singular modern artists. He was a true original, never cowing to trends, always remaining true to his unique artistic vision. Any important collection of early American modernism should have one his works. This example is a tour de force.

Artist Background

1872: Born in Rutherford, New Jersey. Grew up in nearby Weehawkin; 1886: Briefly attended Stevens Institute of Technology, where he studied architecture; 1888-92: Worked in various architects’ offices; 1892: Began working independently as an architect. Designed 6 residences in Union Hill, New Jersey; 1899-1901: Attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA), where he studied with Thomas Anshutz and Hugh Breckenridge; 1902/3-1903/4: Attended Art Students League, where he studied with Frank DuMond; 1905-9: Traveled to Europe, visiting Paris, Amsterdam, Belgium, and Italy. Make first street scene etchings; 1909: Met Alfred Stieglitz for the first time. They would go onto have a long business relationship and friendship. Had first exhibition at Stieglitz’s 291 gallery; 1914: Visited Maine for the first time. Year is most prolific to date. He paints 100 paintings; 1921: First painting enters the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; 1929: Visited Taos, New Mexico for first time; 1931: Had two one-man exhibitions, the first at Phillips Memorial Gallery and the second at Stieglitz’s An American Place; 1934: Buys home on Pleasant Bay, Cape Split. Spent the summers there for the remainder of his life; 1942: Elected to National Institute of Arts and Letters; 1946: Alfred Stieglitz died. 1948: “Look” magazine poll named Marin “Artist No. 1”; 1949: Georgia O’Keeffe declared that Stieglitz’s collection of over 60 watercolors by Marin will go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art; 1950: Awarded honorary doctorates from Yale University and the University of Maine; 1953: Died; 1954: American Academy of Arts and Letters and National Institute of Arts and Letters held memorial exhibition, “John Marin: 1870-1953.”

One of the foremost figures in early 20th century American art, John Marin was enormously successful within his own lifetime. Although he did not truly begin his career as a professional artist until 1905 at the age of thirty-four, he had his first one-man exhibition in 1910, and from then on he continued to exhibit almost annually until his death in 1953. His substantial critical as well as financial success was due primarily to his lasting friendship with Alfred Stieglitz whose influential position within the New York art scene was unparalleled at the time. It was Stieglitz who gave Marin his first solo show at 291, and after that gallery closed in 1917, Stieglitz continued to show his work first at the Intimate Gallery and finally at An American Place. This close and mutually beneficial friendship lasted until Stieglitz’ death in 1946.

During the very beginning of his artistic career, from 1905 to 1910, John Marin lived and worked in Europe, developing his interest in the key subjects which would occupy him for the rest of his life: the landscape, the cityscape, and the sea.  After returning home to America, Marin established a regular working pattern, which he continued to follow for the rest of his career. He would spend winters in New York City, painting and drawing scenes of the city and preparing for his nearly annual exhibitions. In the spring and fall, Marin focused his attention on the surrounding area of New York State and New Jersey, and in the summer, he would travel throughout various regions of the countryside, especially along the coast of Maine.

The last decade of Marin’s life marked a gradual shift in his painting style.  In these later calligraphic works, Marin relied heavily on the use of a “distinctively dancing line”1 to organize the spatial structure of his paintings. Moreover, he increasingly left parts of the canvas bare, allowing the support to show through as an important formal element of the work. These qualities are exemplified in this picture titled Apple Blossoms, Saddle River, New Jersey, painted in 1952, the year before he died. The brushwork is dynamic and varied; in addition to the diagonal bright blue lines, Marin also used white and pinks dots as well as brown dashes to suggest the blossoming fruit trees. Marin made many paintings of orchard motifs during the last decade of his life, and these delicate and lovely works encapsulate the celebratory nature of Marin’s later art. An admiring critic wrote in a review of one of his last major exhibitions that the paintings possessed “an impression of extraordinary playfulness, a sense of joy” as the artist “seems to reaffirm life all over again.”2

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1 Ruth E. Fine, John Marin (1990), p. 263.

2 Ruth E. Fine, John Marin (1990), p. 252.