John Marin grew up with his maternal grandparents in Weehawken, New Jersey. From his early years, Marin showed a great love for the outdoors that he later expressed in his art. As a young man Marin worked as a draftsman in several architectural firms before enrolling at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1899. The following year he won a prize for outdoor sketches of wild fowl and riverboats. Marin's professional career dates from around 1905 when he traveled to Europe, a journey then considered essential to the training of American artists with high aspirations.
Landscape remained Marin's primary interest throughout his life, and his name is often connected with the state of Maine, where, after 1914, he usually worked for part of the year. His paintings of Maine vary from woodland landscapes to misty views of picturesque towns to seascapes, which became an increasingly important motif over the years.
Despite his strong association with Maine, Marin's travels extended far beyond that state. He painted delicate landscapes during his early years in Europe, and also worked in New England and around Taos, New Mexico. New York City and the Hudson River Valley also inspired many of the artist's works. From the early 1930s, the circus captivated Marin's attention; he filled sketchbooks with abbreviated notations that stand for ringmasters, trapeze artists, lions, elephants, and the surrounding audience.
Marin's close ties with the photographer Alfred Stieglitz and those in his circle kept him in contact with the foremost modernist thinkers of the time. His acclaim during his long career surpassed that of any of his contemporaries, and he showed his works in solo exhibitions virtually every year from 1910 until his death in 1953.
[This is an excerpt from the interactive companion to the videodisc American Art from the National Gallery of Art.]