The Art Institute’s collection contains seven framed watercolors from 1921 through 1929 that allow us to examine Marin’s approach to framing in that decade. Three distinct framing profiles emerged in Marin’s work of the 1920s: a square design that varies in finish and dimension throughout the decade, a step-frame alternative used at the close of the 1920s, and a seemingly more complex curved option. As Ruth Fine has remarked, an increasingly important aspect of Marin’s art at this time “was the artist’s attention to the outer edges of his work, his enclosures and frames of various sorts.” The painted and gilded mounts, perhaps the most distinctive aspect of Marin’s work at this time, serve the frame-within-a-frame aesthetic that evolved throughout Marin’s career. Sea Movement—Green and Blue, for example, was fixed to a broad silver gilded mount with a spare frame finished in silver leaf. In this watercolor, the distant view is brought forward by a shallow, square frame design, reflecting the artist’s interest in balancing oppositional forces through the interaction of frame and composition. Marin also continued to explore different ways of balancing the visual forces of nature with his works’ materiality in variations of his well-known step-frame technique as well as through more complex frames that prefigured the dominant use of astragals and more complex curves in his work in the 1930s.

See the frame profiles for The Green Sea—Movement—Stonington, Maine, Movement No. 24—Pertaining to Deer Isle—The Road, and The Pine Tree, Small Point, Maine.

John Marin. Sea Movement—Green and Blue (detail), 1923. Alfred Stieglitz Collection.