Reginald Marsh

By Peyton Boswell, Jr.

from Modern American Painting, 1940
Dodd, Mead & Company

"THE HAVOC caused by the tremendous influence of impressionism and expressionism must be overcome before America can go on and paint the substance, not the light and shadow. The struggle to free art from superficial impressionistic style or fantastic nonsense, is probably harder now than in the old days when art was strong, simple and real." Thus today speaks Reginald Marsh who for years has been struggling to find his own personal way to depict that part of the American Scene that moves him most.

Marsh says: "I like to paint burlesque because it puts together in one picture a nude or near nude woman, baroque architecture for a setting, and a crowd of men, very typical men, for an audience. I like the great Coney Island beach for its infinite number and kinds of people, for the physical manifestations of people from head to toe, its variety of design and its great vitality. Just in this way there is enormous and endless material to paint in New York, exciting, rarely touched, and waiting for the artist to make use of it."

Marsh as an individual personifies America's struggle to free itself artistically. His mother as well as his father, Fred Dana Marsh, were steeped in academic tradition. They were living and painting in Paris in 1898 when Reginald was born, brought him two years later to Nutley, New Jersey. There young Marsh began to draw in his father's studio, where such visitors as Albert Sterner, Ernest Haskell and George Bellows would drop in for an exchange of ideas.

At Yale, where Marsh received his A.B. in 1920, he became a cartoonist on the Yale Record. That helped him later to start successfully as a free lance newspaper artist in New York. He was soon drawing for Vanity Fair and became staff artist on the Daily News for three years, covering vaudeville acts. But the News job took little of his time and he was able to develop as an easel painter and scenic designer, and he did special caricature curtains for J. Murray Anderson's Greenwich Village Follies under Robert Edmond Jones. He designed the Provincetown Players "Fashion." In the meantime he was studying drawing at night under John Sloan.

Marsh started to paint in 1923 and of those years he says: "There was a bewildering confusion of style, more than now, facing the novice. I wanted to be a Marin, a Cezanne, a Sloan, a Bouche, or God knows what, but never a Saturday Evening Post artist....

"As for the subject, I became, the more I worked, engrossed in the great surrounding panorama of New York. Not being a person of great experience or widely traveled, it was difficult to be aware of contemporary New York's peculiar and tremendous significance, and since our painting showed little of it, I can't exactly say how I came to paint New York, except that determining and articulate encouragement came from my new friend and teacher, Kenneth Hayes Miller, whose scholarly and original mind is the most valuable influence we have. It was he who made me know that art is based sound tradition."

"Today I am doing my best to discover the principles of the 'great tradition' in order to portray in a sound manner the subjects that move me. I have traveled abroad to many countries to gaze at the Old Masters. It is from them that me must descend..."

Of America's eagerness to find its own way, he says: "There is a quantity of talent but we live our lives half or all the way through before we can see the right track. Education, so important, is hard to find. Schools that suppose themselves founded on the Renaissance seem so counterfeit. SchooIs that require propaganda becloud the issue. 'Modernistic' schools are for students who like to swoon.... What are we going to do?"

But while Marsh has been searching, the results of his findings have not gone unnoticed. In 1936 the Post Office Department in Washington, D. C., commissioned him to paint murals depicting the transfer of mail. And his easel pictures have been acquired by the Metropolitan Museum, Whitney Museum, Addison Gallery, University of Nebraska, Springfield Museum, the Pennsylvania Academy, Lenox Art Association, Art Institute of Chicago, Hartford Atheneum, and the Boston Museum.

High Yaller (see image) is typical of the lusty technique with which Marsh highlights the picturesque aspects of New York life. Marsh is an energetic worker. After the sketches for the post office murals reproduced in this book were approved, it took him iust twenty-one days to the 13 1/2 by 7 ft. panels directly on wet plaster. Postal officials could find no flaw in Sorting Mail (see image below). They did quibble, however, over details in Transfer of Mail from Liner to Tugboat, pointing out that when incoming foreign mail is being transferred from liner to mail boat, the red-striped registered sacks are never heaped with ordinary sacks. The government paid Marsh $3,ooo, of which almost half went for materials.

Copyright 1940 Peyton Boswell

New Book on Marsh Coming - Oct 2012

Swing Time Reginald Marsh New York City

Hardcover: 176 pages
Publisher: D Giles Ltd
Coming in October 2012.

Swing Time: Reginald Marsh and Thirties New York

By Barbara Haskell (Editor), Erika Doss, Barbara Haskell, Jackson Lears, Lance Mayer and Gay Myers, and Sasha Nicholas Morris Dickstein (Editor)

Available from

High Yaller Reginald Marsh

Reginald Marsh

Original Page 2003 | Last Update Sept 2012

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