John Marin’s Watercolors: A Medium for Modernism
June 26–September 11, 2011
During his lifetime, American modernist John Marin was the country’s most celebrated artist. His improvisational approach to color, paint handling, perspective, and movement situated him as a leading figure in modern art and helped influence the Abstract Expressionist movement.
This exhibition—the first major comprehensive exhibition addressing John Marin’s modernist achievements in the watercolor medium—showcases how Marin reinvented the process of watercolor and transformed American painting. Comprising more than 100 works, the exhibition includes a group of 40 watercolors donated to the Art Institute of Chicago from the collection of Alfred Stieglitz by his wife Georgia O’Keeffe―many of which have rarely or never been on public display. The exhibition also includes selections of oil paintings, drawings and etchings.
The Red Sun-Brooklyn Bridge, 1922The Red Sun-Brooklyn Bridge, 1922
This celebrated image of the Brooklyn Bridge (1922) is probably Marin’s first full-scale realization of this iconic subject in watercolor. Made from a vantage point on the bridge itself, this work highlights the strong diagonal lines of the suspension cables, through which we see an intense, vibrating red sun.
As the artist explained, he endeavored to paint pictures that would recapture the emotional experience of what he called the city’s “pull forces.” Here he did this through a kinetic interplay of line and color, using complementary color relationships and an extraordinary range of unorthodox methods for applying paint—such as the blue dots at right, which were stamped directly from the tube—to keep the eye in perpetual motion.
The Red Sun-Brooklyn Bridge, 1922. Watercolor with opaque watercolor, scraping, and wiping, and fabricated charcoal with stumping, on thick, rough-textured, ivory wove paper (all edges trimmed), 542 x 665 mm, 1°: none. Alfred Stieglitz Collection, 1949.561R
John Marin (1870–1953) was the first American artist to be honored with a retrospective of his works in all media by The Museum of Modern Art, New York (1936). His closest artistic allies were the photographer Alfred Stieglitz and his wife, the painter Georgia O’Keeffe. Upon his death in 1953, Marin was widely hailed for his profound impact on the evolution of modern art in the United States. His free and intuitive working methods opened the door for the dynamic, nonrepresentational art of Abstract Expressionists such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. Marin’s work and ideas led by example.
Throughout his life, Marin incorporated a variety of media—including etching, oil, and a wide range of drawing materials—into his practice. He was also a gifted and improvisational writer and musician. Yet it was in watercolor that he worked most prolifically, consistently, and joyously, earning a reputation as the Winslow Homer of his generation. This stature was founded on his rugged individualism as well as his commitment to watercolor. Both Homer and Marin were rightly credited with pushing their medium beyond its traditional limits, wresting from their paints a powerful, physical art form that was an authentic expression of the American spirit.
John Marin’s Watercolors: A Medium for Modernism is organized by The Art Institute of Chicago.
Major support for this exhibition is generously provided in part by the Terra Foundation for American Art and the Henry Luce Foundation. Additional support is provided by Edward McCormick Blair and Catherine Hamilton. Underwriting for the catalogue has been generously provided by The Elizabeth F. Cheney Foundation.