Saturday, May 17, 2008

Reginald Marsh

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from wikipedia
Reginald Marsh (14 March 1898 - 3 July 1954) was an American painter, born in Paris, most notable for his detailed depictions of life in New York City in the 1920s and 1930s. He produced many watercolors, egg tempera paintings, oil paintings, Chinese ink drawings, and a number of lithographs and etchings.
Reginald Marsh was born in an apartment in Paris above the Café du Dome. Although he was most famous for his sketches and paintings, he also produced series' of photographs and linoleum cuts. He was the second son born to his parents who were both artists themselves. His mother, Alice Randall was a miniaturist painter and his father Fred Dana Marsh was one of the earliest American painters to depict modern industry. When Marsh was two years old his family moved to Nutley, New Jersey. He was able to attend prestigious schools in the states because his grandfather was a very well known man.
Marsh attended the Lawrenceville School and graduated in 1920 from Yale University. At Yale Art School he worked as the star illustrator for the Yale Record, the college newspaper. Marsh was noted to have fully enjoyed his time at Yale because he received a typical college experience. Marsh also secured full time jobs after graduation, he worked as a freelance illustrator, for the New York Daily News and for the The New Yorker. He also submitted illustrations to the New Masses, (a published American Marxist journal from the 1920s to the 1940s.)
Marsh did not really enjoy painting until the 1920s, when he began to study with other artists. By 1923 Marsh began to take painting more seriously. During his trip to Paris, he was able to see famous paintings at the Louvre and other museums, which fueled his excitement to paint. It was the first time Marsh had visited Paris since he had lived there as a child and he fell in love with what it had to offer him. Marsh was impressed by the 'old master' paintings he saw on a 1926 European trip. He returned with a desire to utilize the principles he felt were evident in the art of the Renaissance painters, particularly the practice of taking notes from observation of human subjects in their environments. Marsh then studied under Kenneth Hayes Miller, John Sloan and George Luks at the Art Students League of New York, and chose to do fewer commercial assignments.
Marsh had been influenced by the drawings of Raphael, Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo since he was a child. When Marsh returned to New York City in the late 1920s after meeting Benton and learning from the "masters," he began to study with Kenneth Hayes Miller. Miller was a well known painter at the time and was teaching at the Art Students League of New York. Miller instructed Marsh on the basics of form and design in his art. He 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. As late as 1944 Marsh wrote, “I still show him every picture I paint. I am a Miller student."
Reginald Marsh’s style can best be described as social realism. His style emerged as one that strives to capture the human figure in the context of reality. Marsh’s work depicted the Great Depression. What was expressed in his work was the effort to move out of the Great Depression. Therefore, his paintings have a social message for the need of a change. Although the need for change didn't occur, and he was not successful in ending the terrible conditions he saw because the nation was in bits and pieces, Marsh’s work was successful. His portraits depict a range of social classes that were heavily divided because of the economic crash. Marsh’s caricatures were people who had a crisis thrust upon them; which is why his work shows a loss of human integrity and control in all aspects.Marsh developed a love of crowds, of movement, form, and pattern, but at the same time he also depicted figures alone; showing the division of social classes. Marsh’s main attractions were the burlesque stage, the hobos on the Bowery, crowds on city streets and at Coney Island, and women.Marsh's etchings were his first work as an artist. In the early 1920s he began to work with watercolor and oil. He did not take to oil naturally and decided to stick to watercolor for the next decade. Yet, in 1929 he discovered egg tempera, which he found to be somewhat like watercolor but with more depth and body. Along with Marsh's paintings, he was also highly noted for his print's, first working in etching and lithography, and then moving on to ancient engravings in the 1940s. He kept careful watch of the technique he used for his prints. He noted the temperature of the room, the age of the bath that his plates were soaked in, the composition, and the length of time the plate was etched.
In Marsh’s earlier years, the 1920s, he drew from burlesque theatrical acts. At this time vaudeville and burlesque acts were flourishing throughout the country and were available all over New York City. The burlesque that Marsh captured can be described as raunchy and vulgar, but also comedic, and satiric. Marsh’s drawings depict chorus girls, clowns, theater goers and even strippers. Burlesque was "the theater of the common man; it expressed the humor, and fantasies of the poor, the old, and the ill-favored."Marsh felt alive when painting the burlesque and discovered that he himself was an entertainer.
Drawing people on the sidewalks and on street corners connected Marsh to the harsh reality of the life on the Bowery. Marsh simply believed that the lower class was more interesting to paint although he was not economically part of the lower class. In the 30s the hobo became a familiar figure in America because of the Great Depression that was sweeping the country.Marsh also painted other figures, such as the burlesque queens, the musclemen, and bathing beauties all of whom personified the 1930s for him. In 1930 Marsh was 32 years old living in New York, yet not starving as much of the country was because he had inherited his grandfathers money, besides having his own career.
Marsh liked to venture out to Coney Island to paint, especially in the summer time. There he began to paint massed beached bodies.[When Marsh looked at the contemporary world it reminded him of the world of the old masters. Marsh’s deep devotion to the old masters, led to his creating works of art in a style that reflects certain artistic traditions. His work often contained religious metaphors. Marsh’s crowd paintings are reminiscent of the Last Judgment, because of the masses of bodies tangled and weaved among each other. He also emphasizes the bold muscles and build of his characters, which relate to the heroic scale of the older European paintings. Marsh said "I like to go to Coney Island because of the sea, the open air, and the crowds - crowds of people in all directions, in all positions, without clothing, moving - like the great compositions of Michelangelo and Rubens." Through the techniques he had learned and connecting those techniques to what he saw, Marsh was able to capture characters of the present day and introduce them to the old masters whom he wished he knew from the past.
Marsh was also drawn to the ports of New York. He would sketch the seaports, focusing on the tugboats coming in and out of the harbor. He loved to include the details of the boats such as the masts, the bells, the sirens, and the deck chairs to capture the true reality of the vessels. In the 1930s the harbors were extremely busy with people and commerce due to the country’s necessity for economic recovery.The Great Depression brought about a decline in raw materials and therefore the demand for those materials grew dramatically. This caused the chaotic need for trade along with bustling harbors, in big cities such as New York.
Like on Coney Island and in the seaports of New York, Marsh captured the crowds of the bustling inner city life. Marsh spent a lot of his time on the sidewalks, the subways, the nightclubs, bars and restaurants finding the crowds. He also loved to single people out on the trains, in the parks, or in ballrooms to capture a single human figure and distinguish them from the rest of the city.
Marsh was also obsessed with the American woman as a sexual and powerful figure. This obsession began with his involvement in movie scenes and burlesque theaters. In his work with movies he made sure to capture all different sides to the theater, the rich and the poor and the women as revelers and powerful.In the 1930s during the Great Depression more than 2 million women lost their jobs and during this time was when women were said to be exploited sexually. Marsh’s work shows this exploitation by portraying men and women in the same paintings. Because Marsh was a painter of bodies his paintings depicted women as half clothed, or fully naked, often big and strong. The men portrayed in Marsh’s paintings were portrayed as voyeurs, often watching the women. These paintings share a relationship with the old masters, by portraying the raw sexuality of women. They were often erotic, and populated with heroic-like images.
The painting Fourteenth Street at the Museum of Modern Art depicts Marsh's interest in women. It illustrates a large crowd in front of a theater hall, showing the clashing of classes and of gender in the 1930’s. It features a large community of people interacting but at the same time, it singles certain people out, showing the socio-economic disruption of society and class. The women in the painting are depicted as strong and purposeful with large bodies. Women are idealized in this work and they appear larger then the men. They appear untouchable and unattainable. While the women look active and powerful, the men look like drunk hobos and are portrayed much smaller. The woman walking under the ladder is a large looming strong figure, while the man beneath her walks by on crutches and is slumped over.[Marsh’s world is filled with display: movies, burlesque, the beach, and all forms of public exhibition. Men and women are both spectators and performers within a heavily sexualized world. And Marsh was clearly fascinated by both aspects of that world - almost always presenting its two sides in the same image.” During the 1940s and for many years Reginald Marsh became an important teacher at the Art Students League of New York.
Although Marsh died in 1954, his artwork lives on in many places today. He is believed to be one of the greatest artists of all time by some of his close friends, Edward Laning, and Norman Sasowsky. Many of his prints and thousands of unpublished sketches were found in his estate after he died. They revealed more of the true depth of his work.

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