In the Art Institute’s collection there are five frames that range in date from 1914 to 1919 and provide examples of two distinct profile types Marin’s frames employed. In the 1910s, George Of, a modernist painter himself and a close friend of Alfred Stieglitz’s, was principal framer at Steiglitz’s gallery, 291. Of almost certainly fabricated Marin’s frames at this time. However, the range of profiles, the highly idiosyncratic color tones, and the sophisticated subtleties of the finishes suggest that Marin worked closely with Of. Marin made the final decision about the frames’ finish, which would greatly affect the relationship between frame and watercolor and also designed highly personalized mounts to complement the frame. Marin framed his watercolors like oil paintings, refusing to incorporate a border created by a mat or mount between the frame and the artwork. Characteristic of examples from this period is the absence of any intricate or ornate element. It is clear that Marin embraced the newly emerging modernist aesthetic in framing and explored its possibilities—an extension of his constant experimentation with the watercolor medium. In this early period, Marin expanded his well-known conception of pushing and pulling forces in the composition to the frame itself. His unique step-frame approach, the profile design most associated with his work, usually employed ivory-colored enamel paint over darker tints chosen to be at once harmonious and contrasting with the tonality of the painting.
John Marin. Ocean and Rocks (detail), 1917. Alfred Stieglitz Collection.