Mountains captured Marin's imagination throughout his life, inspiring some of his most robust oils and watercolors. In 1929 and 1930, breaking from his routine of summer trips to Maine, the artist traveled to New Mexico at the urging of his friends Georgia O'Keeffe and Rebecca Strand. In 1928, the year before his first trip to the Southwest, Marin returned to painting in oils as well as watercolors, ending a hiatus of seven years and suggesting feelings of restlessness about his practice that may have encouraged him to consider a change of scene.

The artist executed approximately 100 watercolors in the region of Santa Fe and Taos, where he encountered the Sangre de Cristo Range and the canyons carved into the earth by the Rio Grande. One of Marin's most potent responses to a location was his use of color. In New Mexico, he responded to the dry earth colors essential to that terrain, including the browns, grays, olive greens, and ochers that dominate the watercolors shown here. Marin adopted two primary approaches to the new vistas he encountered: He made close, descriptive translations of specific places, as he did for Valley of the Hondo. Yet he also created landscapes of abstracted, symbolic forms in which eccentrically geometric fields divide the expansive terrain, as epitomized by the watercolor Mountain Forms.

John Marin. Mountain Forms, New Mexico, 1930. Alfred Stieglitz Collection.