John Marin (pronounced MA-rin) was born in Rutherford, New Jersey and raised in Weehawken by his grandparents and two aunts. He started drawing at age seven or eight, and as a youth made extensive summertime excursions into the woods to hunt, fish, and sketch from nature.
Following high school, Marin attended Stevens Institute of Technology for a year and then, at his father’s urging, attempted to establish himself as an architect. After drifting from job to job and doing freelance residential design, he finally abandoned architecture and enrolled in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1899. After two years there, he followed up with a stint at the Art Students League and then left for Paris which became his home base for the next six years.
Marin began developing his distinctive watercolor style-a pared down but energetic kind of impressionism-at an early age. Although he studied with Thomas Anschutz and William Merritt Chase at the Pennsylvania Academy, they had little effect on his emerging style. In Paris, he became more heavily influenced by the work of James McNeill Whistler which helped him polish his skill at creating mood and atmosphere without delineating form. Exposure to Cezanne’s modernism and Picasso’s Cubism led him to his mature style which is often described as a combination of impressionism and Cubism.
While still living in Paris, Marin met the renowned photographer Edward Steichen who brought several watercolors back to New York where he showed them to Alfred Stieglitz, owner of the Photo Secession Gallery and promoter of important early modernists such as Georgia O’Keeffe and Marsden Hartley. Stieglitz mounted the first show of Marin’s work in 1910 and continued to represent his work and shepherd his career until Stieglitz died in 1946.
Marin returned permanently to the US in 1911, settling in New York where the architecture and culture of the city further energized his already dynamic painting. However, his love of being in, studying, and drawing the natural world soon reasserted itself. After marrying Marie Hughes in 1914 at age 44, the Marins spent almost every summer on the coast of Maine where seascapes became his signature work.
Two exceptions to their Maine summers occurred in 1929 and 1930 when the Marins visited Taos as guests of Mabel Dodge Luhan. Over a total of four month’s time, Marin created about 100 watercolors of the New Mexico landscape. Although many of his New Mexico paintings are masterworks, Marin’s time in the Southwest had relatively little effect on his painting and career. Nevetheless, Marin had an enormous effect on other artists in New Mexico, introducing many of them to cutting edge Modernism and paving the way for the upcoming generation of “Taos Moderns.”
Marin received great critical acclaim during his long career and showed in countless exhibitions. His work was in the seminal Armory Show in 1913, and he had one-man exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1924 and the Museum of Modern Art in 1936. In 1947 a traveling retrospective exhibition of his work toured major cities, and the next year Look magazine proclaimed him the pre-eminent artist working in the United States. In 1949 the de Young Museum in San Francisco gave Marin another retrospective, and in 1955 a memorial exhibition traveled to several museums. Marin’s work is currently housed in nearly every major museum collection in the United States.