"Becoming John Marin: Modernist at Work" Shines New Light on the Artist's Drawings

March 1, 2019


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Theresa C. Watson, Communications Coordinator

press@zimmerli.rutgers.edu or 848.932.6709


Zimmerli Presents Exhibition That Shines New Light on John Marin Drawings


New Brunswick, NJ – The artistic evolution of an iconic American modernist is the focus of an exhibition now open at the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers. Becoming John Marin: Modernist at Work explores the artist’s intuitive draftsmanship and innovative work in watercolors. A revelatory look at Marin’s work, the exhibition affords a unique opportunity to vicariously watch an artist inspired by his surroundings and responding through drawing. On April 11, the Zimmerli presents a talk about Marin by Josephine Rodgers, who received her Ph.D. in Art History from Rutgers and currently is the Marcia Brady Tucker Fellow in American Paintings and Sculpture at the Yale University Art Gallery.  


“Drawing was central to Marin’s artistic process, and he made thousands throughout his career,” said Ann Prentice Wagner, Ph.D., the Curator of Drawings at the Arkansas Arts Center who organized the exhibition. “These working drawings give us invaluable insights into Marin’s creative process. The on-the-spot sketches are priceless. They capture the artist’s initial ideas about subjects he went on to paint or depict in prints – like the Brooklyn Bridge and the New York skyline.”


“The works featured in Becoming John Marin provide both beautiful and exciting examples of Marin’s rigorous drawing practice, and visitors will delight in seeing how he translated familiar regional sites into dynamic compositions,” added Christine Giviskos, Ph.D., Curator of Prints, Drawings, and European Art, who organized the presentation at the Zimmerli.


The exhibition is organized by the Arkansas Arts Center, where it debuted in 2018 with never-before-exhibited drawings and watercolors. The second largest repository of John Marin (1870 – 1953) works in the world, the Arkansas Arts Center’s 290-work collection is surpassed only by that of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Becoming John Marin: Modernist at Work features 80 works from this exceptional collection, as well as four prints from the Zimmerli’s own collection. In addition to subjects depicting New York City and Maine, for which Marin is best known, the exhibition features some of the artist’s earliest known drawings, including his lesser-known subjects of sites in northern New Jersey, works made during his European sojourn, and animals and circus subjects. A complementary presentation of 30 American prints from the Zimmerli’s collection explores how Marin’s contemporaries also portrayed a rapidly changing New York City and environs during the first half of the 20th century.


Beginning with his 1909 debut exhibition of watercolors at Alfred Stieglitz's 291 Gallery in New York, until his death in 1953, Marin was a major force among the cutting-edge modern artists who gathered around Stieglitz. The artist was best known for his lively, idiosyncratic watercolors, etchings, and oil paintings of the disparate worlds of landscapes near his home in New Jersey, gritty New York City, and coastal Maine. In 1948, a Look magazine survey of museum directors, curators, and art critics selected Marin as the greatest painter in America. But Marin's early years had not foreshadowed any such recognition. Until age 40, he was unsure of how he wanted to make his living. The young Marin shifted between working for a wholesale notions house, training and working as an architect in his native New Jersey (he grew up in Weehawken), and attending the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and later the Art Students League in New York. From 1905 to 1909, he lived in Paris and made picturesque etchings of European architecture for the tourist trade. But one overriding passion was always there for Marin – drawing. He said, "I just drew. I drew every chance I got."


​While in Paris, Marin was discovered by Edward Steichen, photographer and talent scout for Alfred Stieglitz. Settling in Cliffside Park, New Jersey, across the Hudson River from Manhattan, Marin showed work annually at Stieglitz’s galleries – 291, The Intimate Gallery, and An American Place. Stieglitz became Marin's dealer, promoter, mentor, and friend. Marin's drawings occasionally appeared in exhibitions, but most were informal, private documents made for his own creative purposes. In rural places, where he could work undisturbed and simply make a watercolor on the spot without a preparatory sketch, he made few drawings. But on the teeming sidewalks of New York, he often drew on inexpensive 8-by-10 inch writing pads the artist could afford to buy in large numbers. Marin accumulated piles of sketchbooks that he consulted as sources for finished works he made in his studio.


Marin – who was trained as an architect – made unexpectedly precise drawings of Manhattan’s towering skyscrapers and bridges. Other drawings were experiments in visually fragmenting forms to create expressive modernist compositions. But most of Marin's New York drawings were quick, vigorous notations recording the forces and motions he felt in the buildings and figures around him. He caught fleeting glimpses of rushed pedestrians or flying trapeze artists performing under the big top. The exhibition also follows the artist to such places as the New Jersey Palisades, which overlook New York City, and to lesser-known subjects – portraits of friends and family, as well as charming drawings of zoo and circus animals.


“Most of his informal drawings and watercolor sketches have rarely been seen outside his studio,” Wagner said. “These very personal images let us travel with Marin through the crowded streets of New York, along the rocky shores of Maine, and into the cluttered creative space of his studio.”


Becoming John Marin: Modernist at Work is on view at the Zimmerli from February 26 to May 26, 2019. The presentation at the Zimmerli is organized by Christine Giviskos, Ph.D., Curator of Prints, Drawings, and European Art. It is funded in part by The Class of 1958 in honor of their 60th Reunion, PNC Bank, and donors to the Zimmerli’s Major Exhibition Fund: James and Kathrin Bergin, Alvin and Joyce Glasgold, Sundaa and Randy Jones, Charles and Caryl Sills, and the Voorhees Family Endowment.


Becoming John Marin: Modernist at Work was organized by the Arkansas Arts Center, with generous support for the exhibition and publication was provided by The Henry Luce Foundation, Luce Fund in American Art; the Arkansas Arts Center Foundation; and the Windgate Charitable Foundation. The collection was donated to the Arts Center in 2013 by the artist’s daughter-in-law, Norma Marin, and was recently conserved with support from The Henry Luce Foundation, Luce Fund in American Art.


Ann Prentice Wagner, Ph.D., Curator of Drawings at the Arkansas Arts Center, organized the exhibition and edited the accompanying catalog and narrative website. The fully illustrated catalog features the complete, recently conserved John Marin Collection at the Arkansas Arts Center, and includes essays by Wagner, Josephine White Rodgers, Ph.D., Research Assistant, Drawings, Prints and Graphic Design, Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, along with other Marin authorities. The narrative website www.becomingjohnmarin.org features thorough analysis of Marin’s favorite subjects, from New York’s Woolworth Building to Small Point, Maine. The website guides viewers through Marin’s life and work, exploring some of the artist’s favorite subjects – places he depicted time and time again – with a focus on how his work evolved throughout his career.



The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum houses more than 60,000 works of art, ranging from ancient to contemporary art. The permanent collection features particularly rich holdings in 19th-century French art; Russian art from icons to the avant-garde; Soviet nonconformist art from the Dodge Collection; and American art with notable holdings of prints. In addition, small groups of antiquities, old master paintings, as well as art inspired by Japan and original illustrations for children’s books, provide representative examples of the museum’s research and teaching message at Rutgers. One of the largest and most distinguished university-based art museums in the nation, the Zimmerli is located on the New Brunswick campus of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. Established in 1766, Rutgers is America’s eighth oldest institution of higher learning and a premier public research university.



Admission is free to the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers. The museum is located at 71 Hamilton Street (at George Street) on the College Avenue Campus of Rutgers University in New Brunswick. The Zimmerli is a short walk from the NJ Transit train station in New Brunswick, midway between New York City and Philadelphia.


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The Zimmerli’s operations, exhibitions, and programs are funded in part by Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, and income from the Avenir Foundation Endowment and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Endowment, among others. Additional support comes from the New Jersey State Council of the Arts, and donors, members, and friends of the museum.



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