Herman Maril: An American Modernist

June 28, 2009–August 30, 2009

Herman Maril is widely recognized as the quintessential Maryland painter of the mid-twentieth century. To commemorate his 100th birthday, the Walters is honoring Maril’s contributions to the arts of Maryland with the exhibition Herman Maril: An American Modernist. On view June 28 through August 30, this exhibition will include 26 seascapes, landscapes and still-life works, which he painted in Baltimore, Cape Cod, across the country and abroad. A native of Baltimore, Maril (1908–1986) attended the Maryland Institute College of Art and taught countless students over his distinguished 40 years at the University of Maryland’s Department of Art. He also lent artwork in 1982 to the very first Artscape—the largest free public art festival in America. Artscape will be held this year from July 17-19.

Maril’s paintings have also appeared over the past year at The Provincetown Art Association and Museum on Cape Cod, at the New York gallery of David Findlay Jr. Fine Art, the Ward Museum in Salisbury, Maryland and the University of Maryland, Adelphi, Maryland. Last year, the University of Maryland established the Herman Maril Gallery in his memory.

This exhibition was generously sponsored by Gordon, Feinblatt, Rothman, Hoffberger & Hollander, LLC.

Artist Background

Maril was born in Baltimore in 1908 and began painting as a teenager. He was active in New York as a young man in the 1930s, participating in the New York avant-garde scene. After World War II, Maril painted primarily in Baltimore and Cape Cod. The year 1934 was pivotal for Maril—that summer he visited Cape Cod and was entranced by the sand dunes, expansive skies and quaint fishing boats. In time, he and his wife purchased a derelict post office in Provincetown where they would spend summers. Every autumn, Maril returned to Baltimore.

Throughout his life, Maril was a prominent member of the Maryland regional art community, serving on the Board of Trustees of the Baltimore Museum of Art and working as an instructor of painting, drawing and watercolor at the University of Maryland, College Park from 1946 until his death in 1986. He had an amazing 60-year career of painting and teaching, and his work is featured in numerous premiere art collections around the country, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the National Academy of Design, all in New York, and the Corcoran Gallery of Art and The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C.

About the Exhibition

Maril’s work addresses universal themes in both style and subject. A contemplative artist balancing intellect with intuition, he recreated on canvas what he saw, eliminating all but the barest essentials. During much of his career, he used dark tones, even blacks, applied in blotches or single strokes, to define forms and create patterns on his otherwise colorful canvases. In many of his mature works, his compositions at first glance seem to have been reduced to fields of juxtaposed colors. He preferred an extremely limited palette and relied on the interactions of colors to convey his intentions. He also listened to classical music while painting in his studio.

In one of his early works, Self-Portrait (1929), the 21-year old artist portrays himself in a landscape holding a staff. In its somber, muted colors and its naturalistic approach, this painting typifies social realism, a style coinciding with the Great Depression that began in 1929 and lasted throughout the 1930s. The low-key portrait captures a prevailing sense of anxiety and an awareness of deprivation.

In 1969, Maril was among 40 artists employed by the United States’ Bureau of Reclamation to portray transformation of “the arid west” through water management. Maril chose a site in New Mexico where the Chama River flows through a canyon enclosed by towering 1,500 feet high sandstone cliffs. The artist emphasized the grandeur of the scene with a six-foot canvas. The painting typifies Maril’s late style where he reduced composition to patterns of color applied in subtle, modulated tones, with some of the ground left blank. In 1974, the year the Walters’ Centre Street building opened, Mr. and Mrs. Jules Horelick presented to the museum this painting entitled Near Chama No. 2, New Mexico (1970).


A small, 40-page full-color publication, Herman Maril: An Artist’s Two Worlds, complements the Walters’ exhibition Herman Maril: An American Modernist. The book is published by the Providencetown Art Association and Museum and is available in softcover for $15.