John Marin

American, 1870 - 1953
Fine Art as an Investment: John Marin (1870-1953)
by Erik R. Brockett

The importance of John Marin's contribution to American modernism gained increased validation with the saleroom figure of $1,248,000 paid for his Sailboat, Brooklyn Bridge, New York Skyline in December 2005. Fueled by the use of abstract lines emphasizing structure and motion, the painting epitomizes the distinctive renditions of urban and shoreline subjects that brought the artist financial success during his lifetime.

Born in Rutherford, New Jersey, and reared by his grandparents and aunts in Weehawken, New Jersey, Marin's artistic inclinations were manifest by age eight in the form of outdoor pencil sketches. Ten years later he was producing his first watercolors, his eventual mastery of which is challenged by few American artists. Forsaking a career in architecture in which he had gained experience as a draftsman, Marin entered the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1899, where he studied with Thomas Anshutz (1851-1912). After briefly attending the Art Students League in New York, Marin traveled abroad in 1905. For nearly five years he worked in Paris during the winter and traveled through Europe in the summer, producing a good number of etchings.

By 1907 Marin was also producing an increasing number of watercolors and oil paintings for his own enjoyment rather than for commercial purposes. Through his friend Arthur B. Carles (1882-1952) Marin joined the New Society of American Artists in Paris, a circle of progressive Americans working in that city, of which Edward Steichen (1879-1973) was a fellow member. Through Steichen, Marin was brought to the attention of Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946), the prominent photographer and gallery owner, who became a staunch advocate, supporting and encouraging Marin for the remainder of his career. Marin's work was shown at Stieglitz's Gallery 291 in New York City in 1909, a regular Marin venue from then on. By guaranteeing Marin a living income, Stieglitz freed Marin to develop his artistic style. This investment proved mutually beneficial by the mid-1920s, when Marin's work often sold for a thousand dollars a watercolor; in 1927 he sold Back of Blue Mountain to collector Duncan Phillips for a reported $6,000.

Moving away from the influence of Whistler and the fauve painters, which had held him in good stead with critics, Marin's work became increasingly abstract, and following his return to the United States in 1911, his New York subjects displayed an energy and tension reflecting the extent to which he embraced modernism (Fig. 1). While these urban views are among the most readily identifiable of his oeuvre, Marin produced them relatively infrequently. Consequently, as Meredith Ward of Meredith Ward Fine Art, New York, explains, "The New York subjects in general command a higher price because they are rarer...."

After exhibiting at the Armory Show of 1913, Marin spent most of his summers in Maine along the New England shore, where he painted distillations of coastal themes and simultaneously experimented with completely abstract compositions based on geometric motifs (Figs. 2 and 3). By 1920 Marin's paintings bear witness to his interest in integrating vividly observed landscapes and seascapes with impulsive patternmaking and abstract lines, characteristics of his mature style that would last over twenty years (Fig. 4). His late style included paintings that in some instances were reduced to calligraphic elements paralleling abstract expressionism.

In 1936, when Marin was in his mid 60s, he was honored by a major retrospective exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art whereby Marsden Hartley wrote in the catalog, "You will never see water colors like those of John Marin again so take a good look and remember." In May 1951, ARTnews referred to Marin as the "greatest living American painter." Marin remained active (Fig. 5), painting until his death in 1953 at age 83. Marin was a pioneer in American art and was one of America's greatest modernists -- it is no surprise that Marin's prices are on the rise.

Article appeared in the Antiques and Fine Art Autumn-Winter 2006 issue,
A major figure in early-twentieth-century modernism, John Marin captured the colliding energies of the American urban scene and the vibrant contrasts of natural elements in the coastal landscape of Maine and other countryside locales. As one of the premier watercolorists of his era, Marin developed a light, spontaneous style ideally suited to conveying the freshness and flux of city and country experience.

His watercolors are often considered to match in strength those created by Winslow Homer in the previous century. At the same time, Marin's sensitivity to mass, form, color, and line, and their dynamic interchanges, provided a precedent for the Abstract Expressionist movement of the late 1950s.

He was born in Rutherford, New Jersey, and studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia and at New York's Art Students League. He was a significant figure in the expatriate community in Paris from 1905 to 1910. Marin's art was featured at all three of the New York galleries run by Alfred Stieglitz. His unique style, characterized by luminescent colors, agile brushwork, and a simultaneously delicate and strong handling, involved a melding of aesthetic approaches influenced by the art of the French Fauves as well as that of Paul Cezanne, Henri Matisse, and the French Cubists.

Biography courtesy of Roughton Galleries,
John Marin was one of America's greatest early Modernists. He studied architecture at the Stevens Institute and worked in that field until 1893 to pursue and art career, studying at the ASL and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art with Anshutz and W.M. Chase. While traveling through Europe, Marin met Alfred Stieglitz in 1908, who became his chief promoter and dealer. His first show was held in 1909. While Marin was abroad he focused heavily on etching, retuning to America with 103 works. However, at this point he chose to shift his focus to watercolor, using themes of NYC life in Modernist form and structure to illustrate to dynamics of the city in constant flux. His skyscapes showed a Cubist/Futurist manner with sight lines, contrasting weights and rapid brushwork. Marin's work always sold well with Stieglitz as his dealer and he received quite high prices in the 1920s. Marin was honored with a retrospective at the MoMA in 1936. He was active until his death at age 83.

Biography courtesy of The Caldwell Gallery,
loading data Loading...
Loading... Loading...
  • This website uses cookies to track how visitors use our website to provide a better user experience. By continuing to browse this website, you are agreeing to our cookie policy
Join InCollect close

Join to view prices, save favorites, share collections and connect with others.

Forgot Password?
  • Be the first to see new listings and weekly events
    Invalid Email. Please try again.