Becoming John Marin

Modernist at Work


Small Point, Maine

Maine was a place of creative magic for John Marin. At the suggestion of his friend, the etcher Ernest Haskell, Marin traveled from his home in New Jersey to Maine for the first time in the summer of 1914. He painted along the coast of West Point, near Phippsburg. As he worked, he fell in love with the New England state. Even grey days of rain and fog enchanted Marin.

Fog, West Point, Maine

    John Marin, Fog, West Point, Maine, 1914, watercolor and blind stylus marks on textured watercolor paper, 16 ⅜ × 19 ½ in. (41.59 × 49.53 cm.), Arkansas Arts Center Foundation Collection, Gift of Norma B. Marin. 2013.018.237

    Over the years, Marin and his family would gradually shift summering places in Maine north to more and more remote areas. There the artist could work in peace. Marin wrote to his friend and dealer, Alfred Stieglitz, from Stonington, Maine, in 1921, “Glad I am to be away from all the hurly burly I have left behind for a time…. Glad to walk down to the shore and jump in the boat…. Once in a while to paint a picture with none to butt in with another word. To take out my colors with none to say, You should have said pigments?” [John Marin. The Selected Writings of John Marin. Edited by Dorothy Norman (New York: Pellegrini and Cudahy, 1949), 39.]

    In the wilds of Maine, there was not normally much need for Marin to make quick graphite sketches as he did in New York, where the crowds would not permit him to work undisturbed for long enough to complete a watercolor. Most of his New York Watercolors would have been created in the artist’s studio in Cliffside, New Jersey, where he could work without being stared at and bumped by passersby.

    On the Brooklyn Bridge(1909–1912)

      John Marin, On the Brooklyn Bridge, 1909–1912, graphite and watercolor on paper, 10 × 14 in. (25.4 × 35.56 cm.), Arkansas Arts Center Foundation Collection: Gift of Norma B. Marin, New York, New York. 2013.018.156

      Wonderful, this roaming the woods.

      John Marin to Alfred Stieglitz, November 23, 1919

      Took a long hike to a wonderful creek — mountain stream
      First it must be fished — afterwards painted.

      John Marin letter to Alfred Stieglitz, August 8, 1916

      And now, after looking over my scribbling on various pieces of paper, I think that what I have put down is about what I have wanted to say, the gist of it anyway.

      John Marin to Alfred Stieglitz, October 18, 1925