The Old Print Shop

John Marin


Born in Rutherford, New Jersey, the son of an accountant. His mother died shortly after he was born, and he was raised by his maternal grandparents and two aunts in Weehawken, directly across the Hudson River from New York City. He attended the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken for a year, and beginning in 1893 worked for six years as a professional architect before deciding to become an artist. From 1899 to 1901, Marin attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia. In Philadelphia he studied with Thomas Pollock Anshutz, Hugh Henry Breckenridge and William Merritt Chase. He also studied at the Art Students League of New York.

In 1905, like many American artists Marin went to Europe, initially to Paris. He exhibited his work in the Salon, where he also got his first exposure to modern art. He traveled through Europe for six years, and painted in the Netherlands, Belgium, England, and Italy. In Europe, he mastered a type of watercolor where he achieved an abstract ambience, almost a pure abstraction with color that ranges from transparency to translucency, accompanied by strong opacities, and linear elements, always with a sense of freedom, which became one of his trademarks. By the early 1910s, Marin was based in New York, though he continued to travel widely in New York state and New England. He adapted the avant-garde ideas that had impressed him in Europe—Cézanne’s spare but rich watercolor technique as well as futurism and Robert Delaunay’s Orphic cubism—into a distinctive style, making bold, energetic watercolors of the city’s skyscrapers and the Brooklyn Bridge.

In 1912 Marin married Marie Hughes and they settled in Cliffside, New Jersey. He made his first of what would become regular annual trips to Maine in 1914, and shortly thereafter bought an island at Small Point. Marin was fascinated by the Maine seacoast and landscape, which became a major source of inspiration for the rest of his life.

Marin spent the summers of 1929 and 1930 in Taos, New Mexico, and produced 100 watercolors that were shown to great acclaim at Stieglitz’s gallery An American Place in 1930 and 1931. Renowned as a watercolorist, in the 1930s he began to work more extensively in oils. In 1936 a retrospective exhibition of Marin’s work was held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. By this time he was regarded as a major artist, and by the late 1940s he had achieved an extraordinary level of fame. In 1947 another major retrospective was held at the Institute of Modern Art in Boston, after which Look magazine pronounced him “America’s Artist No. 1.” In 1949 a major retrospective exhibition of his oils, watercolors, and etchings was held at the M. H. De Young Memorial Museum in San Francisco. In 1950 Yale University conferred upon Marin an honorary doctor of fine arts degree, as did the University of Maine.