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

Sea Piece

John Marin (1870-1953)
Sea Piece
signed and dated 'Marin 51' (lower right)
oil on canvas
25 x 30 in. (63.5 x 76.2 cm.)
The Downtown Gallery, New York.
Private collection, acquired from the above, 1952.
By descent to the late owner.
S. Reich, John Marin: A Stylistic Analysis and Catalogue Raisonné, vol. II, Tucson, Arizona, 1970, p. 796, no. 51.35, illustrated.
New York, The Downtown Gallery, John Marin, January 2-26, 1952, one of nos. 1, 4-8.
New York, American Academy of Arts and Letters, John Marin, 1870-1953, January 15-February 14, 1954, no. 3.
Boston, Massachusetts, Museum of Fine Arts, and elsewhere, John Marin Memorial Exhibition, March 1955, no. 32, illustrated (as Sea Piece, No. 1).
London, Arts Council Gallery, John Marin, September 22-October 20, 1956, no. 26, illustrated.
Los Angeles, California, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and elsewhere, John Marin, 1870-1953: A Centennial Exhibition, July 7-August 30, 1970, p. 87, no. 147.

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Elizabeth Beaman
Elizabeth Beaman

Lot Essay

In the late 1920s, John Marin 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. William C. Agee explains, “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)

This fusion of styles is particularly evident in Marin's skillful and emotional depiction of the beach, sea and sky in Sea Piece. To capture the undulating waves and winds of the Maine coast, Marin employs washes in oil, which are thick in width yet thin in application, in the hues of dark green, light pink and vibrant blue. This base layer is overlapped by jaggedly-applied thin lines of dark pigment, which seem to literally designate the directions of currents while also alluding to sailboats along the horizon and natural elements along the shore. 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)

In Sea Piece, as in the best of his late career works, 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 Piece demonstrates Marin's unique modernist style, which earned him distinction as one of the most venerated American artists of the twentieth century and influenced the next generation of Abstract Expressionists.

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