John Marin's Watercolors: A Medium for Modernism
January 23–April 17, 2011
Galleries 124–127
Member Previews: January 20, 21, and 22


John Marin (1870–1953) enjoyed enormous success and visibility during his lifetime, both at home and in Europe. (In fact, Look magazine named him “America’s No. 1 artist” in 1948.) While Marin worked prolifically in watercolor, etching, and oil during a career that spanned more than 50 years, it was the medium of watercolor that encouraged his development of a bold, original style that is both contemporary and authentically American. John Marin’s Watercolors: A Medium for Modernism explores the artist’s working method, his modernist vision as it developed through etching and into watercolor, and his intuitive investigation of the inherent properties of the medium to craft a new avant-garde methodology. Examining the tension between representation and abstraction, Marin conjured in line and color his visceral reactions to his favorite subjects. The over 100 works in the exhibition, which include loans from the Terra Foundation for American Art and the collection of Edward McCormick Blair, are organized chronologically and grouped according to the sites where they were painted, including New York City, France and the Tyrol, the Maine coastline, and the New Mexico desert.

The exhibition and accompanying catalogue also illuminate how Marin, who had a strong interest in the presentation of his watercolors, chose frames and mounts for each work. Legendary photographer, dealer, and collector Alfred Stieglitz bequeathed a significant number of Marin’s frames and mounts, along with some 40 watercolors, to the Art Institute. These frames have been researched, conserved, and in some cases also replicated for the exhibition, where each work will be presented in a frame of the artist’s own design. The catalogue’s authors also examine Marin and Stieglitz’s strategies for the presentation and display of modern American art, highlighting their championing of works on paper.

The exhibition has been undertaken as a sequel to the Art Institute’s 2008 exhibition Watercolors by Winslow Homer: The Color of Light.


A 192-page catalogue with 162 color illustrations accompanies the exhibition. Published by the Art Institute in association with Yale University Press, the volume presents essays by exhibition curator Martha Tedeschi and conservator Kristi Dahm and includes contributions by Ruth Fine, Charles Pietraszewski, and Christine Conniff-O'Shea. It is available for purchase through the Museum Shop.

Other Venues

This exhibition will travel to the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, from June 26 through September 11, 2011.


Support for this exhibition is generously provided in part by the Terra Foundation for American Art and the Henry Luce Foundation.

Major support for the catalogue has been generously provided by the Elizabeth F. Cheney Foundation.

Research support was provided by Edward McCormick Blair and Catherine Hamilton.

Additional support is provided by the Suzanne and Wesley M. Dixon Exhibition Fund.

Generous support is provided by the Exhibitions Trust: Kenneth and Anne Griffin, Thomas and Margot Pritzker, the Earl and Brenda Shapiro Foundation, Donna and Howard Stone, Mr. and Mrs. Paul Sullivan, and an anonymous donor.

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