John Marin 1870-1953

Mark Isle and Bay, Deer Isle, Maine

  • 12 1/2 x 16 inches (31.8 x 40.6 cm)
  • Watercolor
  • Signed lower right: Marin 28
  • 1928

Why We Love It

Marin first fell in love with the coast of Maine in 1914, and throughout the next several decades he created some of his most iconic works there. This painting is an excellent example of Marin’s later style, and it demonstrates the rich variety of his technique, which was characterized by a broader and more dynamic approach to watercolor.

The Value

Marin was a master of the watercolor medium, making his watercolor paintings some of his best. This example of his beloved Deer Isle, Maine is particularly fine. It’s in excellent condition and has a very fine period frame. As one the of the most original and celebrated American modernists, Marin belongs in any serious collection.

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.

Marin first fell in love with the coast of Maine in 1914 and throughout the next several decades, he created some of his most iconic works there. His style shifted considerably during this period from a meticulous delicacy to a broader, more dynamic approach. His later phase is exemplified in this watercolor from 1928 of Deer Isle, Maine, which demonstrates the rich variety of Marin’s technique. As Paul Rosenfeld remarked in 1930: “[Marin’s] painting is full of daring transitions. The gamuts frequently progress in wild, quick leaps; color jumping boldly to its subtle complement. It passes with delightful precipitousness from one texture to another. It passes from shaggy surfaces spattered on the paper to satiny rivulets and streams; from sensations of roundness to sensations of flatness; from streaks ridged like minute mountain ranges to streaks smooth as pond-water on summer nights.” This particular watercolor also shows Marin’s greater attention to the outer edges of his work. Beginning in the 1920s, he frequently used painted enclosures to frame his images, creating a sort of window effect. Marin was extraordinarily prolific, and he produced numerous watercolors of this specific location, and yet he inscribed on the back of this piece, “My best –to me- of its period”, suggesting that this particular work has a special importance within his vast body of work.