John Marin (1870-1953)
John Marin (1870-1953)

Seascape, Maine

John Marin (1870-1953)
Seascape, Maine
signed and dated 'Marin/31' (lower right)
oil on canvas
22 x 27¾ in. (55.9 x 70.5 cm.)
The Downtown Gallery, New York.
The Upjohn Co., Kalamazoo, Michigan, acquired from the above, 1961.
Private collection.
Sotheby's, New York, 25 May 1988, lot 261.
Acquired by the present owner from the above.
S. Reich, John Marin: A Stylistic Analysis and Catalogue Raisonné, vol. II, Tucson, Arizona, 1970, p. 637, no. 31.33, illustrated.

Lot Essay

An expressive coastal scene rendered with thick and vigorous brushstrokes in bold colors, Seascape, Maine strikes an exquisite balance among elements of abstraction and realism which earned John Marin distinction as one of the most venerated American artists of the twentieth century. Painted in 1931, shortly after Marin had transitioned from working exclusively in watercolor back into oil, this painting is exemplary of the artist's daring works that capture the Maine landscape, one of his favorite subjects.

In 1914, Marin began escaping the bustle of New York City to spend months at a time painting the rugged Maine coast. The rocky 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) Maine represented the ideal retreat from the loud chaos and vigor of New York City and the optimal location for Marin to have direct and unlimited access to nature. This transitional moment was noted by a critic reviewing one of the artist's 1916 exhibitions: "Everything speaks of a liberation of spirit, working in harmony with its surroundings and actively alive." (as quoted in R.E. Fine, John Marin, exhibition catalogue, New York, 1990, p. 168)

Fascinated by the rugged natural environs of Maine, Marin returned to the area frequently until his death in 1953. Marin continually strove to fully capture the wonder of Maine in his paintings: "In nature/You see things objects back of one another/in painting they are all on one plane/therefore the great transposition/but there is no way out/You make things in paint as they are made in nature/things are built in nature things are built in paint." (as quoted in John Marin by John Marin, ed. Cleve Gray, New York, p. 53) Recognizing the challenge of depicting a fluid three-dimensional subject in a static two-dimensional medium, Marin worked hard to accurately relay his dynamic surroundings on canvas. Marin's skillful depiction of the roiling sea is particularly evident in Seascape, Maine. To express the undulating waves and strong current of the ocean, Marin has employed several hues of blue and white which denote the ever-changing surface of the water. The windy sky is represented by sharp diagonal brushstrokes of white and gray that creep across the horizon and the windswept grasses in the foreground seem to sway in rhythm with the ocean breeze coming off the water.

Seascape, Maine demonstrates Marin at the height of his abilities, conveying his unique and highly-personalized sensibility to nature, which set him apart from his contemporaries and garnered him distinction as one of America's leading Modernists.

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