Becoming John Marin

Modernist at Work


Woolworth Building

When Marin returned to the United States from Europe in 1909, he found New York City rapidly transforming. The tall buildings known as skyscrapers rose ever higher. The most famous skyscraper of that early era was the Woolworth Building, completed in 1913. Designed by architect Cass Gilbert to house the corporate headquarters for the F. W. Woolworth Company, the neo-gothic skyscraper at 233 Broadway Avenue was, at 792 feet, the world’s tallest building until it was surpassed by the Empire State Building in 1931. The grand scale of the building, combined with its homage to gothic style, led to its nickname, “the cathedral of commerce.” Marin’s sketches of the Woolworth Building laid the foundations for his watercolors and etchings of the famous building.


The whole city is alive — buildings, people, all are alive — and the more they move me the more I feel them to be alive. It is this moving of me that I try to express.

John Marin, Camera Work, July 1913, 18

I have just started Some Downtown stuff and to pile these great houses one upon another with paint as they do pile themselves up there so beautiful, so fantastic.

John Marin, notes from 1911

They — the drawings — were mostly made in a series of wanderings around about my City — New York — with pencil and paper in — short hand - writings — as it were — Swiftly put down.

John Marin, unpublished notes