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Past Exhibitions

John Marin’s Watercolors: A Medium for Modernism

June 26–September 11, 2011

During his lifetime, American modernist John Marin was the country’s most celebrated artist. His improvisational approach to color, paint handling, perspective, and movement situated him as a leading figure in modern art and helped influence the Abstract Expressionist movement.

This exhibition—the first major comprehensive exhibition addressing John Marin’s modernist achievements in the watercolor medium—showcases how Marin reinvented the process of watercolor and transformed American painting. Comprising more than 100 works, the exhibition includes a group of 40 watercolors donated to the Art Institute of Chicago from the collection of Alfred Stieglitz by his wife Georgia O’Keeffe―many of which have rarely or never been on public display. The exhibition also includes selections of oil paintings, drawings and etchings.

Click on an image below to learn more.

John Marin

John Marin (1870–1953) was the first American artist to be honored with a retrospective of his works in all media by The Museum of Modern Art, New York (1936). His closest artistic allies were the photographer Alfred Stieglitz and his wife, the painter Georgia O’Keeffe. Upon his death in 1953, Marin was widely hailed for his profound impact on the evolution of modern art in the United States. His free and intuitive working methods opened the door for the dynamic, nonrepresentational art of Abstract Expressionists such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. Marin’s work and ideas led by example.

Throughout his life, Marin incorporated a variety of media—including etching, oil, and a wide range of drawing materials—into his practice. He was also a gifted and improvisational writer and musician. Yet it was in watercolor that he worked most prolifically, consistently, and joyously, earning a reputation as the Winslow Homer of his generation. This stature was founded on his rugged individualism as well as his commitment to watercolor. Both Homer and Marin were rightly credited with pushing their medium beyond its traditional limits, wresting from their paints a powerful, physical art form that was an authentic expression of the American spirit.

Organization and Support

John Marin’s Watercolors: A Medium for Modernism is organized by The Art Institute of Chicago.

Major support for this exhibition is generously provided in part by the Terra Foundation for American Art and the Henry Luce Foundation. Additional support is provided by Edward McCormick Blair and Catherine Hamilton. Underwriting for the catalogue has been generously provided by The Elizabeth F. Cheney Foundation.

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