When Marin returned to the United States for a five-month visit in late 1909 and then for good in the fall of 1910, he discovered that New York City was in the midst of a radical change. In 1908 the new Singer Building had pierced the sky; the following year, the Met Life Insurance Tower rose even higher. Then, in 1910, construction began on the Woolworth Building, which would rise to 792 feet, becoming Marin's metaphor for the vitality of modern New York. Stieglitz later recalled how his friend "fell in love" with the new skyscrapers and the churning canyons of light and shadow they created.

Settling in his native New Jersey, Marin established New York and its environs as his winter subject; he often took his sketchbook and watercolors to downtown Manhattan, where he studied the new buildings and their transformative effect on the island. Just as Stieglitz, Edward Steichen, and other photographers in their circle were doing with their cameras, Marin sought new artistic means for expressing the busy, noisy, energetic tapestry of the metropolis. His eventual distortion and dramatization of architectural form and perspective, and his recognition of the crucial structural role of color through seemingly haphazard but carefully placed tones, added the elements of speed and nervous energy to his New York watercolors, in which he embraced the medium's inherent unpredictability.

John Marin. Street Scene, 1910. Alfred Stieglitz Collection.