Anyone who paints in egg tempura deserves an extra pat on the back. The process is tedious and can be very frustrating. Marsh was a master and anyone who likes his work would have to learn the in and outs of this style of painting to achieve the coloration and luminosity egg tempura provides.
Reginald Marsh (March 14, 1898 – July 3, 1954) was an American painter, born in Paris, most notable for his depictions of life in New York City in the 1920s and 1930s. Crowded Coney Island beach scenes, popular entertainments such as vaudeville and burlesque, women, and jobless men on the Bowery are subjects that reappear throughout his work. He painted in egg tempera and in oils, and produced many watercolors, ink and ink wash drawings, and prints.
A casual interest in learning to paint led Marsh, in 1921, to begin taking classes at the Art Students League of New York, where his first teacher was John Sloan. By 1923 Marsh began to paint seriously. In 1925 Marsh visited Paris for the first time since he had lived there as a child and he fell in love with what the city had to offer him. Although Marsh had appreciated the drawings of Raphael, Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo since he was a child—his father’s studio was full of reproductions of the old masters’ work—the famous paintings that he saw at the Louvre and other museums stimulated in him a new fascination with the old masters.
While exploring the works of European painters such as Titian, Tintoretto, and Rubens, Marsh met Thomas Hart Benton in one of the galleries in France. Benton, known today as a social realist, andregionalist painter, was also a great student of the Baroque masters. The resemblance Marsh saw between Tintoretto’s famous works and Benton’s motivated Marsh to try to paint in a similar wayFollowing his European trip (in which he also visited Florence) Marsh returned to New York with a desire to utilize the principles he felt were evident in the art of the Renaissance painters—particularly the way large groups of figures, together with architecture or landscape elements, were organized into stable compositions.
Marsh then studied under Kenneth Hayes Miller and George Luks, and chose to do fewer commercial assignments. Miller, who taught at the Art Students League of New York, instructed Marsh on the basics of form and design, and encouraged Marsh to make himself known to the world. He looked at Marsh’s early, awkward burlesque sketches and at his more conventional landscape watercolors and said, “These awkward things are your work. These are real. Stick to these things and don’t let anyone dissuade you!” By the beginning of the 1930s Marsh began to express himself fully in his art
Reginald Marsh rejected modern art, which he found sterile. Marsh’s style can best be described as social realism. His work depicted the Great Depression and a range of social classes whose division was accentuated by the economic crash. His figures are generally treated as types. “What interested Marsh was not the individuals in a crowd, but the crowd itself … In their density and picturesqueness, they recall the crowds in the movies of Preston Sturges or Frank Capra”.
Marsh’s main attractions were the burlesque stage, the hobos on the Bowery, crowds on city streets and at Coney Island, and women. His deep devotion to the old masters led to his creating works of art in a style that reflects certain artistic traditions, and his work often contained religious metaphors. “It was upon the Baroque masters that Marsh based his own human comedy”, inspired by the past but residing in the present. The burlesque queen in the etching Striptease at New Gotham (1935) assumes the classic Venus Pudica pose; elsewhere, “Venuses and Adonises walk the Coney Island beach [and] deposed Christs collapse on the Bowery”. The painting Fourteenth Street (1934, in the Museum of Modern Art, New York) depicts a large crowd in front of a theater hall, in a tumbling arrangement that recalls a Last Judgment.
Marsh filled sketchbooks with drawings made on the street, in the subway, or at the beach. Marolyn Cohen calls Marsh’s sketchbooks “the foundation of his art. They show a passion for contemporary detail and a desire to retain the whole of his experience”. He drew not only figures but costumes, architecture, and locations. He made drawings of posters and advertising signs, the texts of which were copied out along with descriptions of the colors and use of italics. In the early 1930s he took up photography as another means of note taking
Signage, newspaper headlines, and advertising images are often prominent in Marsh’s finished paintings, in which color is used to expressive ends—drab and brown in Bowery scenes; lurid and garish in sideshow scenes.
During the 1940s and for many years Reginald Marsh became an important teacher at the Art Students League of New York, which ran a summer camp where Marsh’s students included Roy Lichtenstein. Lichtenstein was influenced by Marsh’s subject matter in his work. Also in the 40s Marsh began making drawings for magazines such as Esquire, Fortune, and Life. A degree of mannerism is apparent in his later paintings, in which wraithlike figures “float in a watery netherworld” in a deeper pictorial space than that of his compositions of the 1930s.
Shortly before his death he received the Gold Medal for Graphic Arts awarded by the American Academy and the National Institute for Arts and Letters. Marsh died from a heart attack in Dorset, Vermont on July 3, 1954.