“Becoming John Marin: Modernist at Work” Lecture by Ann Prentice Wagner, Ph.D.


Good evening everybody, gosh
it’s really exciting so to see so many people who are interested in John Marin
and our John Marin collection. I assure you it’s a gorgeous show – we’ve had three
couriers here from lending institutions and they all seem very pleased by the
way their work looks and coordination with our works. And it’s certainly their
works give our works a lot of tremendous context I think we’re just incredibly
lucky John Marin’s usually associated with New York and with his summer home
in Maine I think we can now add Arkansas to the list of great John Marin places
and we’re so lucky that Norma Marin decided through her through her
connections that letter to the Nnational Gallery where she gave 970 works to put
here in a place that would be far from that and give a very different audience
a chance to look at them so here is John Marin at Work. a really amazing character
I think I’m sorry that Norma couldn’t be here for this,
at some point her daughter Lisa will certainly come she has been ill and so
couldn’t make it tonight either, but this is a picture of Norma Marin and John
Marin Jr., her husband and they both, after Marin had so carefully saved a
great many of his working drawings and sketches, they made sure that they were
preserved. It’s easy to look at a big collection like this and think, oh gosh he
made a lot more drawings than most people, but mostly I think, yes he made a
lot – but he saved them. He saved them he kept looking at them he used them, so
things like this beautiful blue shark as well as much more informal ones were
saved and I think it’s really kind of cool that this picture got taken by
Charles Sheeler they knew a lot of great photographers. What is in this collection is not only beautiful completed watercolors but a lot of working
drawings and sketches, and since we have such a heavily drawing specialized
collection in addition to contemporary craft, this is a very appropriate
place for it to have landed and what this picture is John Marin in his studio.
He is surrounded by stacks of sketchbooks. Back and on tables behind
him, so most of those sketchbooks have since been disbound, the pages taken out
so that drawings could be shown and sold and perhaps so that he could
make use of them. The National Gallery preserves 19 bound sketchbooks. One is in
the show, which is very lovely of them. On the right is the image of the
little yellow perch that is in that very tiny lovely little sketchbook that dates
back so early, but you can see that the drawings were very important to Marin.
He kept them and he looked at them a lot. I really want to thank our
exhibitions department for making all of these, that used to be just kind of
little scattered sketches, come together in such a beautiful collection and they
have the the little working drawings have not been framed in an historic way
because they probably wouldn’t have been shown in Marin’s time mostly. Now and then they would get shown but mostly and if they were they’d be sort of tacked to
the wall. We do have historic recreation frames for the watercolors to show you how they would have been shown and there’s one original George
Of frame in the show so this show. So this show introduces you to this magnificent collection which has a lot of scattered strengths in various places some of them
are real strengths from Marin like the main watercolors and some of the great
modern buildings in New York that were going up during Marin’s lifetime but
other ones are more unusual. There are portraits and nudes. There are drawings of animals, there all kinds of unusual specialties that
this particular collection is very strong in. So who was John Marin? He was a major American water water colorist and modernist who lived 1870 to 1953. He’s
mostly known for his watercolors as well as his etchings he also did oil painting
especially early and late. All of his watercolors, all his imagery was based
upon drawing. In some cases those were separate sketches. Very often a whole
group of sketches. He never seemed to make one particular sketch that would be
exactly transferred to an etching plate or to a watercolor page or to an oil. He
would work from whole groupings. In many cases like this watercolor you can
see that he did a drawing right on the page and then watercolored over it and
then probably did some drawing on on top of that because this is out of the
country. He could set up an easel and stay and work and not be disturbed. When
he was in New York City he couldn’t. There were crowds on the
streets, so he would just go around with a little sketchbook and he would sketch
in person. Then he’d take it back to the studio and finish it. Maybe blow it up change it to a different medium make it a
different size work on it there. That’s why you will see a lot of
drawings of New York there are very few rural and particularly Maine
drawings, there are some, but not very many. So that helps you to get into his
working methods right there. This is a show that really invites you to look
into the working methods. Marin was part of what’s called the Stieglitz circle, a
group of people around Alfred Stieglitz who started out as possibly at the turn
of the century the greatest photographer in the world. Certainly one of the great
ones. He was a tremendous hit in both European and American photography shows. He started a gallery called the Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession
and you’ll see Stieglitz is here, third the right. All the way on the right is
John Marin. Originally Stieglitz was showing pictorialist photography there,
but then he started to get interested in European modernists and he had a sort of
talent scout in Europe, Edward Steichen in whose studio 291 Gallery which is
what the nickname of the Little Galleries of the Photo-Secession was
because of its address on Fifth Avenue in New York. Stieglitz started
showing European modern works he had the first shows in this country of people
like Picasso and Matisse and it’s just incredible. It was this tiny little
two rooms, this in little little place one of his other artists Marsden Hartley
called it the largest small room of its kind in the world. There was a tremendous
amount of artistic ferment on in this tiny little gallery. So Stieglitz
then eventually started showing American modernists, some of whom had been
discovered in Europe, and Marin was perhaps the most prominent of those. He
always loved to draw, all his life he was born in 1870 – here’s a picture of him
with his mother. His mother died days after his birth. His father was a traveling
salesman, so he was left to be raised by his grandparents, that is his
maternal grandparents in New Jersey around their orchards and fields. And
then as they got too old and passed away he had a pair of maiden aunts who raised
him. I gather that as an only child and, his father remarried later so he had
a stepbrother, but he didn’t grow up with anybody else – he seemed to be a bit of a
loner he loved to just as he said “I drew I just drew I drew every chance I got.” he
would be around in mountains and fields and forests and just drawing drawing
drawing. Drawing animals, drawing architecture, drawing landscape he knew
he wanted to make his living to do with art but he wasn’t sure what would
actually be the way he would fail to starve to death.
Here is his earliest dated drawing that is preserved from 1886, when
he was 16. This is actually still in the estate and in fact until now had not
been reproduced in color. It had been reproduced in black and white in a
catalog back in the 80s, so they dug this up in the house and photographed it for
me, so it’s not in the show but I’m thrilled to be able to show it to you.
You can see that he’s at this point doing what I call high school realism –
where you kind of can’t get let go of the contours you’re so conscious of
trying to get every detail. So later in his career he would get more into really
being able to let go and give you gesture and expression and feeling, but
here you just see his passion and his devotion, and his hard work to it. So this
is the beginning. What he went on to do after trying to work at wholesale
notions house is he apprenticed with some architects in New Jersey and New
York and learned architectural drafting. Got very interested in architecture. He
designed a few houses that as he said were for comfortable living, nothing
glamorous are impressive, but that interest in architecture always lasted.
You can see we have these beautiful early architectural drawings in
sketchbooks, or now removed from sketchbooks, many of them – but also these
beautiful watercolors from all around the New Jersey area.
He realized that architecture just was not what he wanted
to do. So he went back to school and studied at the Art Institute,
excuse me, the Pennsylvania Academy in Philadelphia and also at the Art
Students League in New York. While he was doing these studies and later, he
loved to wander down around by the waterfront and look at all of the the
things that were going on. You’ll see ship masts in the background. The
photograph here that Jodi Rodgers discovered and paired up with these
images shows you where some of his work was done and you can see the ship’s very
clearly and the warehouses and things down around the New York
docks. Also that Maron really records all of this very accurately in these
early drawings it’s not the type of drawing we associate with modernist John
Marin, but this is before he gets into that direction. This is when he is
reacting more to illustrations he’s seen to architectural renderings and to
just being excited about this kind of work. This this kind of architecture this
kind of thing going on down around the docks. Then he decided eventually in
1905 that he would go to Europe and try to do a little studying and work
there in advance his career. What he wound up doing, was his his stepbrother
Charles Bettinger was there, and made a etching press and etching materials
available to him, of course that’s a method of printmaking – so if he could
make etchings that would sell, particularly to the tourist trade of
things around Paris and around Europe, he could make a living. And indeed he
actually was pretty successful with this He made some wonderful prints but he
started to chafe at just making handsome architectural images. He wanted to really
express himself, so you can see in this image which is not in the show, there are
all these crazy lines in the sky. They don’t really have anything to do with
what you’d actually see in the sky, but they are like the energy rising from the
architecture and the people that he sees around him. Here in the middle of
Paris and this is the type of thing he wanted to do, and it started to come out
in his watercolors, in his etchings and he said oh gosh you know my dealers would never put up with this, I’m just doing it for me. He got some watercolors in
the Salon d’Automne, which Edward Steichen saw in 1908, and he sent images and
excited descriptions back to Stieglitz in New York, and Stieglitz said “oh I got
to have this guy” and they set up a show at 291 gallery for 1909 and a star was born. It would be probably watercolors much like this which is in that show, that
would have he would have seen so they’re much looser, more expressive – starting to let go as Marin would put it. Marin said
that he mostly hung out with artists that were friends and hung out at the
Cafe du Dome which is a famous place that a lot of artists hung out and played
billiards, but he certainly also saw some of the modern art shows and
it really starts to get into his work and Stieglitz really supports him. He
will have shows at Stieglitz’s gallery every year for the rest of Stieglitz’s
life. Stieglitz died in 1946, and after that O’Keefe and Marin got together and
ran one of his remaining galleries for a few years and then after that Marin goes
into other modern galleries like the Downtown gallery. Because
Stieglitz believed in him put his money where his mouth was, Marin was able to
make a living. So he settled back in his native New Jersey. Here’s
Stieglitz in a wonderful portrait by Steichen and here is the is 291, it’s
these little rooms here hung with photographs but you can just imagine
them filled with Marin watercolors. Marin actually goes back briefly
to Europe and spends a little while in the Austrian Tyrolean Alps and a little
village called Kufstein. He’s there for about six weeks and he does these
fabulous colorful watercolors. This is a different one that’s in the show, but you
can see there the intense greens and purples and blues and very direct
simplified brushwork. He brings this back when he comes to America. Here’s
where he settles, these are paintings he did looking out his front and back doors
in Cliffside, New Jersey where he had his his studio in his home. It’s in a
place where he’s always across the river from New York, he doesn’t live in New
York, but he can go out and look across the river and see the skyline and study
New York at a distance and then either go over a bridge or take a ferry and see
it right up close. He does a great deal of that during the year. Here he
is being very much a part of 291 Gallery and the circle of people around
Stieglitz. In this picture he is hand- coloring the cover for an issue of the
brief-lived “291 Magazine.” The main magazine out of 291 was called
“Camera Work,” this is a later one. As you can see he’s he’s doing modern
buildings he’s really getting into the skyline. So when he left when he’d
gone from New York, this as much as the skyline would have looked. The buildings
are tall, but they’re not skyscrapers. Just compare that in your head with what
New York’s like now, they’re pretty stubby. He comes back and the great age
of skyscrapers has begun. The buildings are starting to rise and he does these
enchanted watercolors, beautiful little drawings and watercolours. It’s probably
a little tough for you to see, you’ll have to look in the show.
This shows the top skyscraper there – Does anyone recognize it? No that wasn’t built until the 1930s. This is the Singer Building. The Singer Building was built in 1908 and
the reason you don’t know it, and I sure didn’t know it before we looked it up, it
was torn down in 1967 and 1968 which was a tremendous scandal at the time. People got very upset that they took the Singer Building down. It had been this
very dominating skyscraper on the New York skyline and Marin loved it. It shows
up incessantly in his work, so it’s really strange for us. I mean we don’t
know it its personality is strange to us. But it was this elegant brick building
and it shows up in this lovely painting where he’s looking through the supports
of the Brooklyn Bridge through the wires of that of that bridge. So he gets to
really love these views. and I I’m leaving out a good many of his places
but in a lot of this talk I want to introduce you to some of Marin’s
favorite places, so you can see the decisions that he makes when he’s doing
these things. He really gets interested in City
Hall Park which is very close to Ground Zero, by the way if you’ve been down to
visit that, you’ve been right in the area. This is City Hall Park as it is now, many
of the same trees are there a hundred years has gone by they’ve grown up a
good deal. He got really enchanted by this, excuse me come on back, there we go
shows you some of these buildings we tend to see these alone in Marin’s work,
but if you go there you realize they’re all in the same area the Municipal
Building, the Woolworth Building, St. Paul’s Chapel which is the chapel
nearest Ground Zero, you may often have seen pictures on TV, and the base of the
Brooklyn Bridge are all within easy walking distance of the same place and
some of the other buildings there show up and built in drawings that we don’t
have. Here’s a drawing that he did of St. Paul’s. If you go there today, you’ll see
still look at all this activity going on in the foreground. He’s doing a really
kind of classic, very detailed architectural rendering. He could
definitely do that we think of him as a modernist, simplifying and bringing out
the action and the energy and things. He could really do very precise
architectural drawings when he wanted to to just record the information so he can
go back to his studio and then think about it and interpret it. But in the
foreground, he’s catching the energy of all the people and horses and
horse-drawn vehicles going by. So if you go there today, you’ll see much the same
thing. People, tons of people hurrying by, When I took this picture they were
working on the steeple and you can see that the buildings around it have
changed entirely, so it used to be more prominent now it’s really surrounded by
skyscrapers. Just down the street is where in 1912 they started building the
Woolworth Building. It would become the tallest skyscraper in the world until
the Empire State Building displaced it in the 1930s. As you can see it’s not
the only thing being built, at the same time the Municipal Building’s going up on
the other side of the park. They both have cranes and scaffolding going
simultaneously so you can just see Marin down there
all the time with a little pad of writing paper in his hand,
something light cheap portable, he could make his drawings without having too
much trouble with the crowds, and then takes them home, bundles of them home.
Jodi Rodgers and I worked on getting them into groups from the watermarks of the
this just ordinary stationary paper because it really tells you that he’s
working on a whole bunch of things, and what different groups are, because a lot
of this the the style of these sketches, no they wouldn’t be dated, they wouldn’t
give you anything formal – he worked on some of these same subjects for many
years, but we’ve been able to get them into groups and understand when they
were done. Right in 1912 he’s doing the Municipal Building as it goes up and
you’ll see we have multiple drawings showing the cranes in place showing the
scaffolding and then when you see it realized in watercolors like this one
from the Philadelphia Museum and there’s also one from the Met, and there are some
others out there. You can see the red color is the rust of the iron
superstructure, excuse me, substructure you know the supports of the building before
it’s covered with stone, it’s a big white gleaming building. Now you can see there
in contemporary focus that it’s this big gleaming building it’s a little tougher
to see now that the trees have grown up over a hundred years but even in
meirin’s day he was having to kind of move the trees around visually, so you’d
really see the building. And indeed if you look at the whole wall where these
are hanging there’s a whole wall of Municipal Building in the show you’ll
see a messing with the trees and trying to find the best way to show you that
building. It’s one of the things you see him work out in sketches, where to stand.
Sometimes where to imagine himself. Sometimes you can’t get a physical point
of view that will be the best to show what he wants. This is one of the
things that goes on in the Woolworth Building drawings that he’s doing at the
same time. He’ll be gathering precise information – this drawing was actually
made after the building was completed – so it shows it right to the top. But
these were done while it was under construction, and he’s trying to figure
out where to stand, how to be able to look past the trees, how to get some
distance on this, how to show it to you and capture the energy that he feels
from the buildings. As he feels it’s not just the people, he says that while he’s
doing these drawings he says they “the drawings were mostly made in a series of
wanderings around my city, New York, with pencil on paper and sort of shorthand
writings as it were, swiftly put down obeying impulses of a willful,
intoxicating mustness the nearness of the being in it, being part of it, of that
which to my I went on, of the rhythmic movement movements of people on street, of buildings rearing up from sidewalk a sort of mad Wonder dancing, to away there
up aloft.” And none of that has a period they’re all dashes – that’s the way they
run those days, the artists. You should see the the letters they’re really quite
amazing. So those drawings start to come together in a series of amazing
watercolors that show him gradually abstracting, and being more and more
directly expressive of the modern energy that he feels in these buildings. The one
on the left is incomplete, it’s in our collection. It shows you that original
watercolor in its brilliant, unshown previously, very largely. It was
probably shown a little bit, because it was had been attached to a board, so we
know somebody was was showing it, but mostly unshown. Very very brilliant. The
one on the right is part of a famous group that were shown first at 291Gallery and then down the street. You can see here’s the second one
and the third one of this series. More and more abstracted. The one on the
right, just it’s you can just see his gesture [WHOOSH SOUND] just the the flying into the air, this building ascending. These were shown at the Armory Show. This was, to this
point, by far the biggest most important most reviewed most reviled show of
Modern Art in the history of this country, and it went on from very very
popular run in New York to be seen in Boston and Chicago and Marin’s
watercolors of the Woolworth Building went with it. So this really was when he
starts to become very much of a national presence his works are increasingly
getting great reviews they’re being reviewed by the top critics in the
country. So he’s really doing as he would say “cutting loose” and the way he
describes these, I’ll go back, “Shall we consider the life of a great city is
confined simply to the people? and animals on its streets and in its
buildings? Are the buildings themselves dead? If these buildings move
me they too must have life. Thus the whole city is alive. Buildings, people, all
are alive and the more they move me the more I feel them to be alive.
It is this moving of me that I try to express. I see great forces at work, great
movements, the large buildings and the small buildings, the warring of the great
and the small.” So this is what he really wants to get across it’s not just
physical motion of people walking running writing. it’s not just the
implied motion of kind of trembling swaying rising buildings, it’s also the
motion of his hand and drawing and how the the path of his hand is like it’s
dancing across the page in a very expressive way. All of this comes
together. So that was a statement that he published with these. He also
made these fabulous etchings of the Woolworth Building. So they’re smaller
and they’re black and white, but they’re so vibrant they’re incredible. This is
one of the great edgings in the world, that Philadelphia Museum very generously
agreed to lend to us and you can see that he’s painting
on this plate, in addition to the lines etched in with acid, he is painting. There are fingerprints both adding ink and taking ink away and then he he adds more ink
with perhaps brushes he’s scraping back in putting all these little height lines
and patches in with his fingers and with various kinds of tools. So every print of
this kind from even from the same plate would be completely different. One of
the things that Shelley was pointing out, the curator of this piece, that is that
this is the first building in New York that had what we’d call up lighting, it
was illuminated at night. It’s this brilliant white stone building, so this
may be part of what we’re seeing here is just the glow of this building. He is
just fascinated. He’s also fascinated with a thing called the Telephone
Building that’s built later. I originally didn’t know what the building was in
this drawing but I could see is this amazingly powerful drawing, and Meredith
Ward who is one of the lenders for the show, and the representative of the
estate, said I think it’s the Telephone Building – see it’s got a flag at the top.
It’s also very steeply seen from below the Telephone Building, as you can
see on the left there, is an enormous heavy massive building with multiple
masses and Marin was fascinated. And drew it and painted it for decades.
So I think the drawing in the middle is one of his many reactions. The watercolor
on the right at Crystal Bridges certainly is, so that’s the telephone
building which seems to be moving in front of Marin, and he’s he’s kind of
like catching sight of it as it whirls upward in front of him. He just really
became pretty obsessed and there are also these very abstracted kind of
stepping stone almost ziggurat like images that we think may also sometimes be
derived from the Telephone Building, they may not really be any building in
particular but just a more general response to New York. If anything the
telephone building ones lead to them. This is a tiny
watercolor we have it’s on a little piece of card. So he loved all this but
he also loved rural scenery. Marin had grown up in the country he loved the
country he wanted to get away from all these all these screaming people.
Although he did love to capture the people, you’ll see them gathered together
and these wonderful big completed watercolors, we’ve borrowed several. He loved to get outside so here just up the Hudson River – he got out to the
Palisades, they’re called, these amazing cliffs. They’re just off the Hudson River.
Here is one of his watercolors that’s our cover image for the book, and
a photograph, I just found the photograph on the web, but I thought it was just
perfect to show you these intense colors. Again he’s really showing you this
dramatic uplift, and in this case it’s the earth instead of buildings. So much
the same spirit that you see in the Telephone Building and the Woolworth
Building, out there the Palisades, a place he would have known well as a New Jersey
native. He could have been there often and, of course Jodi Rodgers from from the
same area has spent a lot of time out there and knows the power of these
pieces. Another place he went was the Ramapo Mountains, a little farther away.
They are in New York/New Jersey, and as you can see, it’s very much
wilderness. Lots of trees and mountains, and apparently quite the difficult hike.
Jodi went out there with with her friend Elizabeth Walsh, who took these pictures
very kindly for us, and Michael Carr also with you. Anybody else? that was that day?
As you can see if you look carefully it’s close enough that you can see the
Manhattan skyline in the background. There is that contrast, the two different
worlds coming together in an image like that. We have what’s perhaps the greatest
collection of his Ramapo images I’ve ever seen. It actually includes a
couple of little sketches, little watercolor sketches that’s
really unusual. Marin almost always just simply made a watercolor. He rarely did a
sketch, it certainly rarely a color sketch, so it’s wonderful we have two
sketches for the finished watercolor that’s on the right. I would guess
that it just has to do with perhaps perhaps the fact that those are quite
rugged mountains, and I am told by my friends who were there, that this was it
was a really sweaty, difficult trip in the in June. Climbing up there was quite
a challenge, and that tells you something about Marin. He was quite the outdoorsman. He loved to hunt and fish as well as to boat and hike and draw, of course. He
was really willing to get out there and work hard and really get into the
wilderness to get what he wanted. One place he did travel he traveled all over
the country in various places around the New England, the mid-Atlantic he got to
New Mexico in the summers of ’29 and ’30, we have nothing from there. So I’m sorry
about that, we’ll have to work on it but those are highly collected pieces. We
will hope to add that in, but otherwise we do very well on representing places
that he got, we do extremely wel,l but Maine was really the home of his heart
for many years. His friend Ernest Haskell in 1914 convinced him to go and spend
his first summer in Maine, and you could see from this map that they
started off Small Point/West Point where he was in the middle teens are
pretty close to Portland. They’re not very far up the coast it’s not that
remote, although it’s a little remote, I tell you when I the driving out there
was not always easy to find everything. Then in later years they moved up to
Deer Isle, much farther north, it’s quite a wilderness Isle with a fishing village
on it, Stonington. Then in later years yet in the 30s they moved up to Cape
Split, that’s very remote, and it’s very northern, and very beautiful. Right on the
coast. Finally there was where he bought a summer house in 1934 by the way.
He bought it from a guy named Harry Prentiss. You know how many Harry Prentisses there are
in New England there are my family? I don’t know whether he’s a relative but
he could have been. It’s spelled differently, but they came over in the
17th century so who knows. This is the first house that he stayed in Aliquippa
house, which was right there in the Small Point/West Point area. So he’d be out
fishing and hunting and drawing. Here’s some photographs of West Point you can
see it’s absolutely a glorious place. Those are actually the last photographs
I took on my trip. Lobster traps in the foreground here, very Maine. Here are the
paintings that we have from West Point. I suspect we’re looking at fog, all the way
here. He was really interested, Marin was, in the effects of light and atmosphere
and how it relates to a place. This one is definitely called Fog West Point, but
I suspect the other one is fog as well. You can see instead of just going
grey he’s using blue to give you the coolness and distance and kind of
melting quality of fog. My comparing it with a photograph that I took actually on Mount Desert
Island, but it kind of shows you a similar composition, where up in front
the colors can be reasonably vivid, but they very quickly fade off and become
much cooler in the fog. While he was in the area, Stieglitz had scraped and
put together a collection of $1,200 that Marin could live on for a year and go
and work, and Marin got married about this time ,and his wife quickly became
pregnant and he goes up to Maine he comes back six weeks later and says to
Stieglitz, “ah mmm could you find me some more money? I bought an island.” He fell in
love with this lovely little island known as Marin Island to this good day.
He went back and painted it often but it had no source of water. You couldn’t
build there. You couldn’t live there, you could visit, you could paint, but
practical it was not. Stieglitz apparently managed to get money for them
to not starve to death, but oh, I think he was a little annoyed. But Marin loved the
place and you’ll see paintings that he did of Marin Island
repeatedly. He was really a serious outdoorsman. He really liked to be out
there. He made friends with the neighbors he became really attached to Maine. This is also in that area this is a beach on Small Point, I confess this is a
private club where I had no business being, and this is a lovely little cabin
where he stayed, and I love there’s a description by Ernest Haskell, and he
says “he lived on a promontory, a wild wonderful spot a mare in the spot, with
the tree at the back of his cottage, and the sea in front, on shelving rocks that
went down to the sea once I found him painting on the limb of the tree high up
painting with both hands.” Marin was ambidextrous, he often painted
with both hands. You’ll frequently see pictures of him at least with brushes in
one hand and actively painting with the other. The other place right around there
he was really attached to, was — well I got my clue as to what it was from this
painting we have, this watercolor, it’s called Morse Mountain, Small Point
Maine. So I said, a-ha there must be a mountain there so I looked it up on the
web and I discovered that indeed there is a place you can see it’s called the
Bates Morse Mountain Conservation Area Bates being Bates College. So it’s a
conservation area where they do research and they keep things going. So I went out
along the road you can see on this Google Maps picture. And found the road
that led off to where I knew the mountain was and it looked terribly
private, not all sure I should drive there, but I turned off anyhow and came
to a parking area and this lovely little booth where you could get maps and
information and they said if you hurry — and this is when I had just flown into
Portland just dropped off my stuff and hurried out here — if you hurry you can
get to the mountain at sunset. So I hurried on up you can see there’s a path
to the beach as well as up to the peak. As you see on the right with the
sunset I made it. That is what I saw, isn’t that fabulous?
You can see why Marin went back to this place for decades back and back
and back. There are lots of paintings. On the left is this rock outcropping on the
top of this — it’s a modest Mountain I walked up it — You can’t you can’t
call it climbing, there’s a paved path to the top now, but it gives you this great
view. There are private houses behind you so you can’t go back very far but
there’s this rock outcropping, and these wonderful pine trees that grow on it. And
then you’re looking across a salt marsh with these wonderful little winding
water channels. And then, there are more hills on the other side and in the
distance, the water of the ocean breaking on the beach. Fabulous. So that’s where
our little watercolor clearly was made. Once you in there then you
understand what you’re seeing this is the tree on the rock outcropping and
what’s behind it, you’re probably catching a glimpse of
some salt marsh. This fabulous painting showing it the tree on a rock, this is on
the cover of the Art Institute of Chicago’s catalog. So that’s where it is.
Here’s one that Portland has, you can very clearly see the salt marsh channels
in the background. So that’s 1926, so now we’re already in the next decade. Here’s
another one we have the same area probably on a foggy day. Very abstracted one. This is the only picture in the collection to have been shown at 291
Gallery. It’s marked on the back of the backboard that it was. It’s also on the
checklist, so very clearly it was. I think that’s Marin’s handwriting on the back,
right? I think, maybe? I can’t tell you where this was, but because it’s
1917 it’s probably there. I love it wet greens by the sea. Very Maine. This was
our Christmas card we had in the shop wonderful little picture of a, probably
pine tree, on the same rock outcropping or a very similar one. But then after
that, he started going north. So he went up to a Stonington on Deer Isle and Deer
Isle has a lot of lovely paths but it also has this beautiful little village.
and here it is as shown in a watercolor on loan from Columbus.
So very much as it is now. Here’s the house he rented when he was there. Which
is out at an area west of town called Green Head. And the cool thing was you
turn around, and that’s what you see. You’re looking out to sea. You’re looking
out through the islands and the ships and the lobstering area. And as you can
see in the old postcard, in his day, fewer houses had been built. He had quite a
lovely view, there so much less blocked in those days. So he would do a lot of
pictures of the islands, and of the port. Then he also took off and hiked up
all sorts of trails again, real, the real outdoorsman. He is simplifying what he
sees, and really bringing out the greens. Simplifying the shapes and the colors, to
really get to the essence. And the energy of where he is.
I went out on some of the trails. I, of course, can’t tell you whether they’re
the same trails, but in the spirit of the thing. So it really kind of shows you
the details he eliminated. And what he captured about the the growth of the
trees, and the richness of the green and the lushness of that wet thriving kind
of pine forest. Then the final place that he went and lived, was on Cape Split.
Which you can see on the map, it’s because the Cape splits at the end. You know it’s like the mouth of an animal. And that is the house that they bought in
1934. Right there on the rocks, oh it’s fabulous views. absolutely fabulous. It’s
been added on to over the years. Norma still lives there. They welcomed me. I’ve
got to tell you though if you try driving out there, I mean tell them
you’re coming. Because there is rather a sign as you get close that essentially
says go away. Private. But that’s, I think you know, it’s it’s just so people won’t
bother, I think particularly the other family there are two compounds out there. This is looking through the windows of the house as it is now. So he could be
indoors and look right out to the islands of the rocks.
so you see something like our painting here, of a smoky southwester as he calls
it. So I guess very foggy, lots of water in the air he’s really simplified
the colors to the gray and the white the heights boom on the waves. And but he of
course because he’s got that house he can be indoors looking out the window.
But he did love to be out on the rocks drawing, Don’t you love this picture? Was
provided by the family, so there he is with what looks kind of like a
watercolor pad and you can see his watercolors next to him. There’s a cover
on them, but that little white rectangle next to him as a set of watercolors. So
he might have been working on something like this. Very soft, delicate little
abstraction – there’s boats out there and little distant islands. Very late.
Probably done around Cape Split, he doesn’t say. He did visit a few other
places where he didn’t actually live, he would visit Mount Desert Island
frequently. He never lived there but it’s gorgeous. So here’s a beautiful little
watercolor, the vivid colors he just he loved it. You can see in his letters that
he would try to get there every year when he could. And he also would get out
to some of the land around Cape Split-up way up there Washington County is the
biggest county in Maine, and one of their big exports is blueberries. These days
they’ve cleared the rocks and the trees off of the blueberry barrens, so that
they can do really big commercial planting and harvesting. In Marin’s day,
they had the rocks and the trees. And it’s those irregularities that he loved,
and the craggy rocks and the contorted trees. Ruth Fine is one of the great
authorities on Marin and did their wonderful show at the National Gallery in 1990, and
says that he tended, and I think his drawings and watercolours bear this out,
to identify with trees. Particularly individual trees, as if they were people.
As if they are characters. And in this little drawing we have three trees and
so I kind of start to think that perhaps this from 1952 would be symbolizing Marin
and his wife who had died in 1946 and his son who had gone off to war and then
come back. But they remained, of course always the very very close family,
identifying with nature just loving it. And of course the family is
headquartered there during the summers still. So I hope that you will go up and
enjoy the show. (APPLAUSE)

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