The Impact of Europe

Like many young American artists of his generation, Marin traveled to Paris—then the center of the modern-art world—for artistic enrichment. Arriving in September 1905, he remained there for five years, journeying throughout Europe from his base in a small Montparnasse studio. It was during this extended sojourn that he had his first commercial successes, selling etchings to dealers in Paris, London, Chicago, and New York. In Paris he also had his first opportunity to show his work in public exhibitions, and he encountered important art-world figures, including the photographer Edward Steichen, who brought Marin's work to the attention of the influential New York dealer Alfred Stieglitz.

In Paris, Marin quickly began making prints of famous monuments to sell to tourists. A great admirer of James McNeill Whistler's etchings—and those of the Parisian Charles Meryon—Marin taught himself to use varying qualities of line, manipulations of surface ink, and carefully chosen papers to evoke nuanced moods. Stieglitz encouraged him to loosen up his etching technique; this advice angered his print dealers—who found his experimental prints unsellable—but felt right to Marin.

The majority of the artist's European watercolors display a Whistlerian interest in atmosphere and reliance on delicate tonal harmonies, yet his use of the medium became increasingly individual and daring during these years. Throughout his life, Marin tended to deny the impact of foreign influences on his art, but it is certain that he was exposed to the celebrated watercolors of Paul Cézanne and the bold colorism of Henri Matisse's new Fauve style in Paris. The memorial exhibitions that followed Cézanne's death in 1906 introduced a new watercolor vocabulary: transparent, pastel washes; expanses of bare paper; fragmentation of form; and emphasis on the surface plane. Marin absorbed these elements, yet he pursued them in his own way.

Drawing on his experiences with the etching needle and veils of ink, the light effects of Whistler, and his exposure to Cubist fragmentation and Fauve color, Marin eventually abandoned the picturesque approach of his earlier European watercolors. By the time he visited the awe-inspiring peaks of the Austrian Tyrol in 1910—shortly before returning to the United States for good—he employed his paints to respond freely and passionately to the natural world.

John Marin. Austrian Tyrol, 1910. Alfred Stieglitz Collection.
John Marin. The Brook, 1910. Helen Birch Barlett Memorial Collection.