That road, that road ...

By Rufus Foshee | Mar 17, 2010
Source: Collection of Farnsworth Art Museum John Marin, "The Road to Addison," oil on canvas, 1946. Collection of Farnsworth Art Museum, Rockland, Maine.

When Lora Urbanelli was executive director at the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, I went to see her in her office. We met in the lobby and she took me over to show me Bryan White's "Pouff." I was astonished to see on the office wall a John Marin oil, of which there are few. This work was not known to me, though I had worked with Edith Gregor Halpert at Downtown Gallery in New York in the early 1960s, as his dealer. I have enthusiastically studied his work ever since. This was not just another Marin oil, this was a compelling work of art, done by an American master. Where had it been hiding before it landed at the Farnsworth in 1994? To discover Bryan White and Marin's "The Road to Addison," was a red letter day for anyone

The Farnsworth will only confirm when it was acquired and that it was from a private source.  It seems a bit strange that Marin's most important work in oil or in watercolor has been hiding since it was done in 1946.  It does not go unnoticed that this work has never been reproduced in any Marin publication, unless there is one I have not been able to find. I am now reading Marin's letter in an effort to see if there is any mention of this work there.

In my nearly 40 years here, the Farnsworth has never mentioned this work or given it any special attention. I suppose it is possible that directors and curators just took it as another Marin work. By several times the most monetarily valuable work in the Farnsworth collection, is it not curious that the art going public has been denied even a peak at this magnificent, important work.

Once seen by those who know Marin's work, it may not be immediately apparent how different a work this is from all other Marin works, of which there are many. This painting is a portrait of a town, a place, a specific place. It might have been called Cape Split, which is synonymous with Addison. Most appreciated for his seascapes of Maine, one might not suspect that Marin was a New Jersey man. So those accustomed to seeing such seascapes, may find it not only surprising but also difficult to deal with an interior landscape.

While more tempting in this case than in most, I try to avoid references to any particular images in any painting, preferring to allow others to see what they see. Unlike most Marins, this work is surreal, but shows how imaginative a painter Marin was. Any surreal qualities this work has do not detract from the impact of this portrait of a community that Marin has so exquisitely created.

In this great work, an interior landscape, Marin did not loose the sea rhythms that characterized all his work, the blue areas at the top, symbolic of the raging sea. But Marin's interior landscape is not about the symbolic, it is about the real thing, in this case a community.

I think one might ask, in looking at the painting, where does the road to Addison begin and where does one enter it? Does one come onto the road at the top of the painting, or has one entered it from the bottom? Does it matter?

I have been surprised how few people know the works of John Marin, the painter of Maine scenes, but from New Jersey. But then how would they know unless they have visited Colby College and seen the permanent display of Marin's work given by John and Norman Marin?

If his greatest work rests in the dustbins at the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, with no one having seen it, this is an indication of how unlikely one is to see the work of this American master. Maybe a day will come when the Farnsworth may feel that there should be a Marin exhibition? But that may take some pushing aside at the museum, which remains a repository for Wyeths. Though there is a new director, the chief curator remains the same.

Marin's work is more appreciated by the informed national art community than any other artist associated with Maine. By the time American abstract expressionism was in knee pants, Marin's work was all done, his having died in 1953. But his work was very influential on those that followed him. Of those who matured in the first half of the 20th century, only Georgia O'Keeffe threw a greater shadow of influence on developing artists.

The question persists: "Why has this great Marin work been kept from the public, by a public institution that is supposed to reveal what is important in art, not hide it? I trust that I stand not alone in my curiosity. My primary care doctor, who is very sophisticated, said to me this week that he did not know the work of Marin. Where would he have seen it, if the Farnsworth has kept hidden even his most important work for 16 years?

Is it possible that curators have chosen to push their own agendas, as opposed to what is important at the highest level or is it just plain ignorance? If Marin's "The Road to Addison" is not important, then I need to go back to school. I do not propose to be either art historian or curator. But I am blessed to be able to see what Marin meant in one of his letters,  "... if one is fortunate enough to recognize a work of art, don't talk about it, just enjoy it."

 

 

If you appreciated reading this news story and want to support local journalism, consider subscribing today.
Call (207) 594-4401 or join online at knox.villagesoup.com/join.
Donate directly to keeping quality journalism alive at knox.villagesoup.com/donate.
Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.