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Artist: John Marin (American, 1870 - 1953)

Date: 1915
Medium: Transparent watercolor wash over pencil sketch on thick, cream (3) colored, rough (2) textured, mould made, rag wove paper.
Overall: 16 1/8 x 19 3/8in. (41 x 49.2cm)
Signed: l.r.:'Marin 15'
Credit Line: Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Edmund Munson and Mr. and Mrs. Watson Lowery
Object number: 82.45
Label Text
Museum from Home, November 10, 2020

John Marin (American, 1870-1953), Landscape, 1915, watercolor on paper, 16 x 19 ½ in., Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Edmund Munson and Mr. and Mrs. Watson Lowery, 82.45

John Marin lived in Cliffside Park, NJ, and spent summers in Maine from 1914 through the rest of his life (with very few exceptions). This landscape watercolor in the Museum’s collection was painted during Marin’s second season in Maine, at Small Point, about an hour along the shore northeast of Portland.

At this moment in his artistic career, Marin was steeped in the most modern art practices surging into existence in the new 20th century. He had lived in Paris and traveled around Western Europe from 1905-09, and again in 1910-11, and his artwork was exhibited at Alfred Stieglitz’s Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession, more popularly known as 291. Before 1913, Stieglitz was virtually the only person in the United States to show the most experimental modern art from Europe and in America. Marin developed a personal cubistic style that conveyed the spirit of dynamism he experienced when he was immersed in New York City or in a boat on the water off the coast of Maine. Although his imagery is very often quite abstract, Marin always grounded his compositions in scenes he experienced firsthand.

Landscape, 1915, is a late-season watercolor of two trees in bright autumnal color. Here we find the artist in a lyrical mood. Marin’s impulse toward creating a sense of movement in nature by using strong diagonal lines or fractured forms is held in check. The day must have been calm and peaceful. The trees are somewhat stylized, but they stand upright with their seasonal foliage on glorious display.

Text Entries

The year Marin painted Landscape was a time of great turmoil for himself, his friends, and the Western world. The start of World War I in 1914 worried and appalled Americans and brought to this country many European artists seeking to escape the devastation of the war. This latter fact intensified the involvement of Alfred Stieglitz and the circle (in which Marin was a major figure) at The Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession with the European avant-garde. At 291, as the gallery was usually called, there were exhibitions of Picasso, Braque, and African art. Francis Picabia had been in New York in 1913, and returned in 1915. Marcel Duchamp arrived in the summer of 1915, about the same time Landscape was executed. Going to Maine in the summer of 1915 was in part Marin’s escape from the cacophony of theories being bandied around at the gallery.(1)

It was Marin’s habit to spend the warm months of the year in the country, and in 1915 he returned to Maine for the second summer in succession. Revealingly, he wrote to Alfred Stieglitz from Maine, in 1915, that “a great man is a combination of deliberation and impulse”(2) While he was not referring to himself as a “great man,” his formula for greatness—deliberation and impulse—could be taken as

Marin’s artistic credo. For him there was too much deliberation and not enough impulse going on at 291.(3)

Despite Marin’s resistance to the Cubism of Picasso and Braque,(4) Cubist influences are evident in the paintings made in Maine during the summers of 1914 and 1915. The impact of Cubism is felt mostly in the degree of abstraction in many Maine paintings. Several watercolors from the summer of 1915 are among the most abstract work in Marin’s oeuvre to that time. He appeared to be searching for a vocabulary of symbols that would encompass the landscape, but not solely by its ordinary appearance.

Perhaps the most extreme form of Marin’s investigation of Cubism is a painting titled Tree Forms, Autumn.(5) Here Marin has stylized forms from nature into zigzags, curves, and, in other works, wavy lines to symbolize water. Some of this vocabulary finds its way into Landscape. The zigzag shapes on the foliage of the tree on the left side of this picture are virtually identical to those found in Tree Forms, Autumn (John C. Marin, Jr., New York).

No matter how abstract Marin’s paintings became—with the exception of a very few experimental nonobjective works—he remained dedicated to the landscape itself. Even Tree Forms, Autumn is after all tree forms, not simply forms. In fact, from almost any phase of Marin’s long career, there are paintings that by any measure are representational alongside others that are very abstract. Marin we recall put impulse as well as deliberation in his equation of greatness.

Stylistically, the Utica picture occupies a position between the two extremes explored by Marin. Indeed, most of his works belong in this intermediary category. It is always important to realize the depth of his commitment to nature. From Maine he wrote: “Good to have eyes to see/ Ears to hear the roar of the waters. / Nostrils to take in the odor of the salt-sea and the firs.”(6) John I.H. Baur explained it this way: “The truth is that Marin was old enough to be rooted in an American tradition that saw in nature an ultimate reality, and this militated against abstraction.”(7) But Marin was younger than Matisse and only eleven years older than Picasso. When he painted Landscape Marin was forty-five and in a few years his art became more vigorously expressionistic. Yet in Landscape we have an excellent example of his exquisite balance between the modern movement and the softly lit world of Whistler.



1. Letter to Alfred Stieglitz from Small Point, Maine, August 1, 1915, in Dorothy Norman, ed., The Selected Writings of John Marin (New York: Pellegrini and Cudahy, 1949), p. 20.

2. Ibid., September 19 and 26, 1915, p. 27.

3. Ibid., p. 20.

4. Ibid.

5. Tree Forms, Autumn (John Marin, Jr., New York), in Sheldon Reich, John Marin: A Catalogue Raisonné (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1970), p. 413, fig. 15.56.

6. John I.H. Baur, Watercolors by Charles Burchfield and John Marin (New York: Kennedy Galleries, Inc., 1985), unpaged.

7. John I.H. Baur, John Marin’s New York (New York: Kennedy Galleries, Inc., 1981), unpaged.


Presumed copyright: the artist or the artist's representative/heir(s).