Reginald Marsh's New York

By Grace Glueck, New York Times, July 1, 1983

Extract from New York Times, full article here

NEW YORK in the Depression era was a lively proletarian crowd scene, its seedy streets swarming with Bowery bums, burlesque performers, dance-hall hostesses, shopgirls and men who stood on breadlines. That, at least, was the vision of Reginald Marsh (1898-1954), a Paris-born, Yale-educated boy from the suburbs who -with such other old-master-oriented painters as Isobel Bishop and Kenneth Hayes Miller - lived and worked on 14th Street, and saw Manhattan with the same ''regionalist'' eye as Grant Wood saw Iowa. It's a vision brought alive again in ''Reginald Marsh's New York,'' a show of 38 paintings, drawings, prints and photographs from Marsh's prolific output, installed at the Whitney Museum's new outpost in the new Philip Morris building, 120 Park Avenue, at 42d Street.

With a sketchbook and often a camera, Marsh frequented the city's streets, movie houses, amusement arcades and outlying beaches, lured by the bodily display of working-class people as they went about their duties and pleasures. At Coney Island, he caught beach belles and muscle men strutting their stuff; on 14th Street, bouncy office clerks flaunting the latest from S. Klein; at the New Gotham burlesque house, a lusty stripper parading nude before a leering audience. With documentary fidelity (an actual 1934 headline in The Daily News, ''Bride Quits Astor in Street Quarrel,'' is reproduced in a painting of Rockaway Beach), he translated his photographs into sketches, sketches into paintings. In his thinly painted tempera compositions, he took cues from such past masters as Rubens and Tintoretto, building dense but fluid crowd scenes of figures drawn with classical anatomy against such ''monumental'' backdrops as the Third Avenue El.

Reginald MarshSome quintessential Marsh concerns - women, crowds, low life, signs and show-biz razzle-dazzle - are packed into ''Pip and Flip'' of 1932, one of his better-known paintings. A throng is massed before a raucous display of circus posters, and three ''live'' dancers (Pip and Flip, depicted on one of the posters, are two buxom but pointyheaded female twins from Peru). Prominent in the crowd are four young women, scantily dressed, whose long and shapely legs move in Rockettelike unison as they walk; the whole a very high key, lowdown version of, say, a Rubens processional.

In quite another mood is the somber ''Chatham Square'' (1931), a nighttime composition with old-masterish lighting, that depicts a group of derelicts hanging around the pillars of the El. (The El is gone, but what Marsh could do today with the Port Authority Bus Terminal!) Marsh was better, though, when dealing with what he admired most - lusty sexuality in young bodies, as in the boisterous ''Lifeguards'' (1933), a rough-and-tumble beach scene in which two amateur acrobats stage a muscle show in a welter of buttocky, bosomy female sun worshipers. He was by no means a great painter - often, the works trail off into caricature, a heritage from his days as a cartoonist for The Daily News and then The New Yorker, and some of them look very dated. But they still convey a sharp sense of the city's vitality.

Marilyn Cohen, a Ph.D candidate at New York University's Institute of Fine Arts, has organized the show for the Whitney and written a very able catalogue ($8.95), full of insights about Marsh's emotional relationship to his subjects. And she's put on display some interesting biographical material - letters, diaries, account books and so forth that show him as a precise observer and record keeper. A bonus is taped 1930's music, sung by Fats Waller among others, which adds a lot to the show's period flavor. (Through Aug. 24, 1983.)

Copyright 1983 New York Times

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

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