The Philadelphia Museum of Art announces a major gift from Mrs. Norma Marin that includes all of the surviving copper etching plates used by her father- in-law, the artist John Marin (1870-1856). One of the most important graphic artists of this century, Marin won his reputation as a preeminent American modernist primarily through his extraordinary accomplishments as an etcher and watercolorist. Dated from 1908 to 1951, the 71 etching plates in the gift span the artist's printmaking career and form a fitting extension of the Museum's comprehensive collection of etchings by Marin, housed in the Museum's Department of Prints, Drawings and Photographs.
The unequalled strength of the Museum's holdings of almost all of Marin's etchings is derived largely from three previous acquisitions: 14 etchings included in the Alfred Stieglitz Collection gift in 1949, 27 etchings received as a gift from Carl Zigrosser in 1967, and 141 etchings assembled from John Marin's personal collection by Mrs. Norma Marin and her late husband, John Marin, Jr. The latter group of rare proofs comprises the J. Wolfe Golden and Celeste Golden Collection of Marin Etchings, commemorating the generosity of the Philadelphia couple who funded this important acquisition in 1969.
John Marin began to make etchings of architectural subjects while an art student in Europe between 1905 and 1910. While his earliest prints show the unmistakable influence of James McNeill Whistler, by 1909 Marin had already begun to work in an expressive manner uniquely his own. Nine of the etching plates in Mrs. Marin's gift are of European subjects from this early moment in the artist's career, including several executed with an forceful calligraphic line that foretells his mature style. Sixty of the surviving plates now given to Museum are for prints made 1913 and 1951, the years when Marin made his lasting contribution as a printmaker of international standing.
In 1913, at the groundbreaking International Exhibition of Modern Art (popularly known as the Armory Show) in New York, Marin exhibited ten dazzling cubistic watercolors of Manhattan skyscrapers. That same year the artist produced 11 etchings depicting two New York landmarks that for many artists best embody America's aspirations in a new age: the Brooklyn Bridge, which continued to represent an awesome feat of engineering several decades after its construction, and the recently completed Woolworth Building, then the world's tallest edifice. Included in the recent gift are plates for four of the seven Brooklyn Bridge etchings and two of the four Woolworth Building prints. Marin's pursuit of the definitive image of a given subject resulted in a number of serial sequences. A highlight of the current gift are groups of plates, made between 1910 and 1951, for 15 of Marin's series, which together offer rare insight into to the creative process of a celebrated artist.
Two previously unknown etched copper plates that had been covered with black varnish are also included in the gift. After recent laboratory examination revealed that etched lines lay beneath the varnish, the varnish was removed. Although the earlier of the two newly discovered plates bears Marin's etched signature and a date of 1914, the etched lines suggest elements of urban architecture that do not cohere into a recognizable subject. Its sketch-like appearance does testify to Marin's rapid, improvisational approach to etching.
The second of the two recently uncovered etching plates is a previously unknown version of Downtown, the `El' (1921), a subject that was included in the portfolio, Six American Etchings, published by the New Republic magazine in late 1924. This discovery now brings to four the total number plates etched by Marin in preparation for this important commission. The collection of plates presented to the Museum by Mrs. Norma Marin includes the other two trial plates for this project in addition to the one just rediscovered (the fourth and final plate of Downtown, the `El' became the property of the New Republic magazine and its location is not known).