Born in Bronxville, New York in 1929, Marden received a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Boston University and a Master of Fine Arts at Yale School of Art. His professors included the painters Alex Katz and Jon Schueler, whilst Richard Serra, Vija Clemins, Chuck Close and Nancy Graves were amongst his classmates. ‘When I got to Yale I painted one self-portrait and that was the last figurative painting I ever did,’ he said.
Marden’s interest in abstraction deepened during the 1960s, particularly after a stint working as a guard at Jasper Johns’ 1964 retrospective at New York’s Jewish Museum. ‘Jasper has been a big influence on my work,’ he recalled in 2019. ‘He added another dimension to what is reality in painting.’
Marden held his first solo show in 1966 at Bykert Gallery in Manhattan. There he introduced the public to his pictures created in oil paints and beeswax, including Nebraska, a canvas painted entirely in one shade of bluey-grey that recalls a cross-country drive through the American state. In 1966, Marden also began working as a studio assistant to Robert Rauschenberg.
During the 1970s, Marden became famous for his panel paintings — often diptychs and triptychs in just two or three colours, like red, yellow and blue. In 1972, he took part in Documenta 5 in Kassel, and the following year in the Whitney Biennial. In 1975, he was awarded a retrospective at the Guggenheim. Around this time Marden and his wife, the artist Helen Marden, began frequently visiting the Greek island of Hydra, eventually buying a home there.
During the 1980s, Marden created a series of geometric paintings that recall the work of Piet Mondrian on slabs of locally quarried Greek marble. By the following decade, these works gave way to the winding, rhythmic lines he is best remembered for — a style he remained committed to for the rest of his life.
In 2017, Marden signed with Gagosian gallery. His auction record was set three years later, in 2020, when Complements, an orange and blue diptych created between 2004–07 realised $30.9 million. Marden died in New York in 2023, aged 84.