John Marin Revealed

This past weekend, the Amon Carter Museum of American Art opened its fall exhibition, John Marin: Modernism at Midcentury. The exhibition, which brings together 65 of Marin’s paintings in oil and watercolor, takes a fresh and focused look at the artist’s last great body of work, created between 1933 and 1953, the year of Marin’s death.

During those years, Marin wrestled with the planar architectonics of Cubism—so much a part of his production as an early modernist—finally allowing the tension created by cubist form to relax into loose, flowing lines of great descriptive power and urgency. An active agent in the art world of mid-century America, as well as a tried and true observer of nature, Marin produced work in these years that deeply influenced the emerging experimentation of the New York School.

Composition Cape Split Maine

John Marin (1870–1953), Composition, Cape Split, Maine, No. 2, 1933, oil on canvas, Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, 1969.9

Our museum’s interest in this underappreciated period of Marin’s long and innovative career began quite early in our history. In 1969, the Amon Carter purchased Marin’s Composition, Cape Split, No. 2, created in 1933. That acquisition in our first decade of operation foreshadowed what is now being celebrated in the exhibition: Marin’s ongoing influence on the energetic and often chaotic art world of mid-century America. The artist’s painterly exuberance in this work marked the start of his period of experimentation between the mediums of oil and watercolor, and it exemplifies his achievement of a lyrical synthesis of the two.

It is fair to say this painting has not gotten its proper due until now. The authentic character of the painting only recently was able to be fully appreciated as Marin’s application of paint and the true colors of his palette lay hidden beneath a thick, shiny layer of old, discolored varnish. Claire Barry and Bart Devolder, the museum’s conservators, expertly removed the varnish in preparation for the exhibition. We are now able to see what Marin intended us to see: a fresh-matte surface and the physicality of brushstrokes that transform the viscosity of the oil medium into a view of the roiling seas of Pleasant Bay near the artist’s home at Cape Split in Addison, Maine. It is a wonder among wonders in John Marin: Modernism at Midcentury, on view at the Amon Carter until January 8, 2012.