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John Marin (1870-1953)
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more The Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller
John Marin (1870-1953)

Sea in Blue, Grey and Light Red

Details
John Marin (1870-1953)
Sea in Blue, Grey and Light Red
signed and dated 'Marin 48' (lower right)--inscribed with title (on the stretcher)
oil on canvas
25 x 30 in. (63.5 x 76.2 cm.)
Painted in 1948.
Provenance
The artist.
Estate of the above.
Cape Split Place, Inc., Addison, Maine.
Acquired by the late owners from the above, 1978.
Literature
S. Reich, John Marin: A Stylistic Analysis and Catalogue Raisonné, vol. II, Phoenix, Arizona, 1970, p. 763, no. 48.23, illustrated.
J. Barnitz, et al., The David and Peggy Rockefeller Collection: Art of the Western Hemisphere, vol. II, New York, 1988, pp. 86-87, no. 39, illustrated.
Exhibited
New York, An American Place, John Marin’s New Paintings in Oil and Watercolor, December 7, 1948-January 31, 1949.
Trenton, New Jersey, The New Jersey State Museum, John Marin: A Retrospective Exhibition, December 3, 1950-January 21, 1951, no. 33.
New York, The Downtown Gallery, John Marin: Paintings in Oil, 1903 to 1953, January 8-February 2, 1963, no. 22.
La Jolla, California, Museum of Art, Marsden Hartley--John Marin, February 12-March 27, 1966, no. 37.
Addison, Maine, Cape Split Place, Inc.; Hanover, New Hampshire, Dartmouth College Museum Galleries; Worcester, Massachusetts, Worcester Art Museum; Trenton, New Jersey, The New Jersey State Museum, John Marin's Maine--A Tribute, August 1, 1978-June 24, 1979, no. 30.
Portland, Maine, Portland Museum of Art, John Marin in Maine, May 22-September 8, 1985, no. 76.
Southampton, New York, Parrish Art Museum; West Palm Beach, Florida, Norton Gallery and School of Art; Savannah, Georgia, Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences; University Park, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania State University Museum of Art; Buffalo, New York, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Marin in Oil, July 18, 1987-September 4, 1988, pp. 109, 122, no. 44, illustrated.
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Lot Essay

Please note the present lot retains its original frame by the artist.


In 1948, renowned modern art critic Clement Greenberg declared, "If it is not beyond doubt that [John] Marin is the greatest living American painter, he certainly has to be taken into account when we ask who is." (Art and Culture: Critical Essays, Boston, Massachusetts, 1961, p. 181) That February, Look magazine surveyed 68 curators, critics and museum directors to select the ten best painters in America; John Marin was again declared “Artist No. 1.” Painted during this year of critical acclaim, Sea in Blue, Greys and Light Red demonstrates the exquisite balance between elements of abstraction and realism that earned Marin distinction as one of the most venerated American artists of the twentieth century and influenced the next generation of Abstract Expressionists.

Beginning in the summer of 1914, Marin habitually escaped the bustle of New York City to spend the warmer months painting the rocky shoreline of Maine. The rugged promontories and wild, churning sea had a profound impact on his artistic direction. "After Marin discovered Maine and its seascapes in 1914, it became his most compelling subject matter." (S. Hunter, Expression and Meaning: The Marine Paintings of John Marin, exhibition catalogue, West Palm Beach, Florida, 1999, p. 14) For the first few summers, Marin stayed in the Small Point Harbor area, where he purchased "Marin Island." Despite being virtually uninhabitable due to lack of a fresh water resource, the island served as a retreat for the artist where he could paint and fish in a remote and primitive location. During the 1920s, the Marin family started to venture further north to Stonington, Maine, but it was not until 1933, at the suggestion of author and journalist Herbert J. Seligmann, that he spent his first summer on Cape Split in Addison. There he chose to buy the small cottage where he would continue to summer for the remainder of his career and ultimately spend the final days of his life.

It was in Addison where Marin found his mature style. In the late 1920s, the artist had revisited oil painting after several years of concentrating primarily on his work in watercolor. Having gained a nuanced knowledge of both media, in his late oils Marin combined the benefits of both into a distinct working style all his own. Marin explained in 1946, “I’m calling my pictures this year ‘Movements in Paint’ and not movements of boat, sea or sky, because in these new paintings, although I use objects, I am representing paint first of all and not the motif primarily.” (as quoted in Marin in Oil, Southampton, New York, 1987, p. 55) Painted two years later in 1948, Sea in Blue, Greys and Light Red manifests Marin’s emphasis on the process of painting with its use of bold, expressive brushwork to evoke the unique spirit of Maine. As William C. Agee describes, “The paint is thin, applied almost like watercolor, thus abolishing any lingering, arbitrary hierarchies between the two mediums; they are fused as one which lets the work become painting alone, just painting, free to go its own course under the artist’s hand.” (John Marin: The Late Oils, New York, 2008, p. 13) Klaus Kertess furthers, “The layering of wet strokes create[s] a more complex modulation of light. The sea’s and the canvas’s surface, as a mirror of light, [become] more pronounced; the dense, dark blues…[surrender] to a greater variety of not only hue and tone but also thick and thin paint.” (Marin in Oil, p. 54)

This fusion of styles is particularly evident in Marin's Sea in Blue, Greys and Light Red. To capture the undulating waves and strong current of the water, Marin employs several overlapping blue and grey strokes of varying hue and thickness. He juxtaposes them with more sharply geometric lines of amber red and darker grey and blue, which further emphasize the chaos of the water’s surface and form the ominous cloudy sky. The horizon line is high, flattening the natural elements of the seascape against the picture plane. Highlights of bright white break up the kaleidoscopic application of color and signify the white caps of the roiling sea. Parts of the composition are also deliberately left unpainted, “a practice that can be traced to Cézanne, as if to let in more of the fresh Maine air and breeze.” (John Marin: The Late Oils, p. 12) Amidst the dramatic water, a lone sailboat, casually delineated with a few diagonal lines, fights to stay upright amidst the rocky waves and adds a touch of man’s presence to the otherwise unfettered natural environment.

In Sea in Blue, Greys and Light Red, Marin’s unique blending of abstract and representational art, as well as oil and watercolor technique, creates a composition that abandons “virtually any pretense of depicting anything but natural forces and rhythms embodied in the movement of the paint itself…we know it is a seascape because that’s what Marin did, but otherwise all is transformed into constant motion of light and water and wind itself.” (John Marin: The Late Oils, p. 13) Sea in Blue, Greys and Light Red demonstrates Marin at the height of his abilities, conveying his unique and highly-personalized sensibility to nature that set him apart from his contemporaries and garnered him distinction as one of America's leading Modernists.

David Rockefeller wrote of this work, "I think this is quite a wonderful Marin, and the fact that it is still in its original frame, which was painted by the artist himself, is of special interest. We acquired this work directly from the artist's son, John, when we called on him and his wife, Norma, in 1978 at their gallery at Cape Split." (as quoted in J. Barnitz, et al., The David and Peggy Rockefeller Collection: Art of the Western Hemisphere, vol. II, New York, 1988, p. 87)

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