Early Abstract and Modernist Painting

John Marin (1870–1953)

Sailboat, Brooklyn Bridge, New York Skyline, 1934

Oil on canvas board, 14 x 17 3/4 in. (35.6 x 45.1 cm). Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Art Acquisition Endowment Fund, 2006.1

One of America’s most popular modernists, John Marin fashioned a personal vocabulary for expressing the vitality of urban landscapes in both oils and watercolors. Sailboat, Brooklyn Bridge, New York Skyline presents the city as an assemblage of colors and shapes that suggest the energy of the metropolis. His reduction of familiar forms to their essential lines and planes indicates an indebtedness to cubism that is personalized by his use of bright colors and dynamic brushwork. Trained as an architect, Marin frequently used devices within his compositions to frame or enclose forms. The image presents a series of frames-within-the-frame: the black outlines around the forms of the bridge, tugboat, and sailboat contain and control the explosive energy of the artist’s lines and brushwork. To distinguish this work as an oil painting (rather than a watercolor), Marin applied a thin black wash to the simple wood molding of the frame and added elongated dabs of white at regular intervals.

Learn more about this painting on the Terra Foundation website.