Although John Marin (1870-1953) was regarded as one of Americas most important painters at the time of his death, scholarship and museum exhibitions to date have focused on his early work coloring popular understanding of his lifes work. Featuring approximately 60 paintings, drawings, and watercolors, John Marin: Modernism at Midcentury, on view June 23 through October 10, 2011 at the Portland Museum of Art
, will concentrate on the late period of John Marins career between 1933 and 1953. This exhibition, the first in-depth examination of the artist since 1990, will explore his late career, will add nuance to our understanding of his work, and will reclaim Marins reputation as an artist committed to developing a modern visual language of landscape and place in an era preoccupied with complete abstraction. Major loans from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., as well as museums and private collections throughout the country will provide this rare opportunity to view the work a modern master.
Based in New York and New Jersey, Marin followed a path time-honored by artists to coastal Maine. Unlike an earlier generation, however, Marin brought his modernist eye to Maines venerable landscape. He initially painted near mid-coast Small Point in 1914, but in 1933 began summering in remote Cape Split. This move farther north heightened the painters commitment to a raw, unspoiled landscape. Marin sensed the radical potential for his painting on Cape Split; the possibility to transform the ephemeral patterns of waves into innovative compositions would forecast some of the primary features and preoccupations of mid-century American art. By the time he took up residence along the coast of Maine, Marin had begun to work in oil on canvas alongside his staple of watercolor. The medium of oil, with its innate fluidity and viscous texture, suited capturing not only the impact of the wind, sun, and rain on the sea but the intense blue and green colors of its waters. His work in oil and watercolor came to inform each other as the saturation of the former and immediacy of the latter were placed in service of more compact and non-referential compositions.
While the sea became a focus of Marins work after 1933, he would never forgo the New York skyline, or the Ramapo hills and Saddle River of New Jersey. He continued to mine these sites for their vitality, but they became progressively non-representational, employing geometric patterns, and culminating in the 1950s in calligraphic, lace-like statements. Many of Marins oil paintings during this period were accompanied by stock frames which he painted with loose, geometric shapes as an extension of the canvas.
John Marin: Modernism at Midcentury is organized by the Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, Massachusetts and the Portland Museum of Art. The show will travel to the Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas, in the fall of 2011. The project is guest-curated by Debra Bricker Balken, a noted scholar who specializes in modern art.