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John Marin's Watercolors: A Medium for Modernism

Martha Tedeschi with Kristi Dahm

Hardcover $50.00
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John Marin (1870–1953) worked prolifically in watercolor, etching, and oil over a career that spanned more than fifty years. As his friend Marsden Hartley wrote of his watercolors in 1928, “John Marin is behind no one in his comprehension and accomplishment in his medium.... He has brought his medium to very genuine heights, has pushed it further than any modern I can possibly think of.” The medium of watercolor—already associated with American nationalism in the generation after Winslow Homer—encouraged Marin in his development of a brash, original art that was both modern and authentically American. A dedicated rule-breaker, Marin adopted an improvisational approach to color, paint handling, perspective, and movement that situated him as a leading figure in modern art of the United States. He enjoyed enormous success and visibility during his lifetime, both at home and in Europe, where his watercolors frequently represented the American avant-garde in international exhibitions.

The Art Institute of Chicago is home to an outstanding collection of Marin’s works, including a group of more than fifty watercolors given in 1949 by photographer Alfred Stieglitz, the artist’s friend and dealer. While individual works in this corpus have been loaned on rare occasions to outside exhibitions, the collection has never been studied and published in its entirety. Drawing upon in-depth technical examinations conducted by the Art Institute of Chicago, John Marin’s Watercolors: A Medium for Modernism will explore the artist’s working method, his modernist vision as it developed through etching and into watercolor, and his exploitation of the inherent properties of his medium to craft a new avant-garde vocabulary. Encompassing his earliest watercolors, which are descriptive works rooted in traditional practice, the catalogue will also include more experimental compositions that incorporate techniques such as dragging the back end of the brush through puddles of paint, applying watercolor with fingers, and painting across heavy charcoal lines. The works will be organized chronologically, grouped according to the sites where they were painted; subjects include the newly erected skyscrapers and bridges of New York City, scenes in France and the Tyrol, the craggy coast of Maine, the dry desert plains of New Mexico, and Marin’s late works.

This publication will also pay particular attention to the framing of the watercolors. Marin felt strongly about this issue, and his choices of frames and mounts departed radically from ornate, European styles favored in the late nineteenth century. The Art Institute has the largest museum collection of Marin watercolors in original mounts and frames in the world, and the catalogue will document them through photographic and written description. All frames and mounts will be described and considered as examples of Marin and Steiglitz’s campaign to elevate the status of modern watercolor by adopting highly original modes of presentation.

The Art Institute of Chicago, January 2011
approximately 11 3/4 x 9 in.; 192 pages; 214 color/27 black-and-white illustrations
ISBN: 978-0-300-16637-8