Sea and Boat #1


Sailboat on choppy water in pastel hues.

John Marin
b. 1870 Rutherford, NJ; d. 1953 Addison, ME
Sea and Boat #1, 1942
Oil on canvas
22 1/8 x 28 1/8 in
Acquired in 1989
The Dr. and Mrs. John J. Mayers Collection
© Estate of John Marin / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

John Marin was one of the first American artists to paint landscapes and cityscapes in the modern artistic language of distorted planes and angular forms. For Sea and Boat #1 Marin paints a rhythm of cross-current lines to represent the crashing waves along Maine’s rocky coastline, a place he frequently visited to capture the moods of and response to nature. Never completely crossing over to pure abstraction, the natural landscape was of utmost importance to Marin as he always kept what he called the “motif” visible in his art.

This painting has a noteworthy and somewhat infamous history. A few years after it was painted, it entered the highly controversial collection known as “Advancing American Art.” In 1946, shortly after World War II and at the beginning of the Cold War, the US Department of State embarked on a program of cultural diplomacy. The central part of this program was the purchase of Modernist paintings by living American artists. This collection was then to travel throughout Latin American, Europe and Asia to flaunt the freedom of expression available to those living in a democracy. However, controversy immediately erupted as Americans condemned the State Department’s use of government monies to buy this new, abstract art. The outcry was so overwhelming that the State Department stopped the exhibitions and sold the paintings for pennies on the dollar as war surplus.