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Reginald Marsh (1898-1954)

Standpipe

1948

Watercolor with charcoal on paper, 22 7/8 x 14 5/8 inches (sight). Signed and dated lower right: "REGINALD MARSH/ 1948"

Exhibitions:

Bernard Danenberg Galleries, New York, NY, "Aspects of New York: A Summer Exhibition and Sale of Works by Reginald Marsh," July 29 - August 15, 1969.

Reproduced:

Danenberg, Bernard, "Aspects of New York: A Summer Exhibition and Sale of Works by Reginald Marsh" (Bernard Danenberg Galleries, Inc., 1969), cat. 27.

References:

Goodrich, Lloyd, Reginald Marsh (Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1973); Laning, Edward, The Sketchbooks of Reginald Marsh (New York Graphic Society, 1973); Haskell, Barbara (ed.), Swing Time: Reginald Marsh and Thirties New York (Giles, 2012).

Provenance:

Estate of the artist; with Bernard Danenberg Galleries, NY, NY, by 1969; Richard J. Miller, St. Louis, MO; acquired through Questroyal Fine Art, LLC, NY, NY, as consignee of the estate of the foregoing, March 23, 2017.

Notes:

Fine antiqued gold leaf frame with white cloth mat liner with gold trim; tablet mounted on frame.  A photograph of this work appears in an album of Marsh's works included in the Smithsonian Institution Archives of American Art, Reginald Marsh Papers, 1897-1955,

Series 8: Photographs, circa 1897-1908, 1920-1952, 8.3: Art Work, 1920s-1952, 8.3.1: Albums, Box 7, Folder 30: Volume 7, 1947-1952, leaf 6; related sketches appear in Series 5.2, Sketchbook [#22], Various Subjects, 1948-1954, Box 5, Folder 53, pp. 14-16 (see Fig. 2 below).

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Fig. 1 - Reginald Marsh, Hat Display, 1939, watercolor on paper, 48 1/4 x 26 1/2 inches. Inventory of Hirschl & Adler Modern (as of 2017). 

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     Reginald Marsh was born in Paris, moving to America by age two.  His parents, both artists themselves, were well-off: Marsh’s grandfather had made his fortune in the Chicago meatpacking business. Marsh’s formal artistic training began with his matriculation at Yale in 1916.  By the time of his graduation, he was art director of the Yale Record.  His professional career began with a job as staff artist at New York’s Daily News and, later, as a cartoonist for fledgling magazine The New Yorker.  He took classes at the Art Students League, where he was profoundly influenced by Kenneth Hayes Miller and, later, by Thomas Hart Benton. In 1928, the artist moved to a studio on the corner of East Fourteenth Street, overlooking Union Square, joining a community of artists which included Miller, Edward Laning (and his wife, Mary Fife), Isabel Bishop, Raphael Soyer, and other artists who came to be known collectively as The Fourteenth Street School. 

 

     An acute observer of the everyday life of the city, Marsh is widely celebrated for his vigorous depictions of the teeming activity of his Fourteenth Street neighborhood, the Bowery and Coney Island. He painted scenes in burlesque halls, outside movie theaters, within subway stations, on Coney Island beaches and of the downtrodden on Bowery street corners.  

 

     “A main motivating force in his art was the magnetic power of the female body,” wrote Marsh’s longtime friend and renowned art critic Lloyd Goodrich.  “The conventional studio nude was not for him; it had to be the figure as seen in the real world, from the shopgirl on the street to the burlesque stripper dropping her clothes until the climactic all-too-brief revelation of nakedness.”* While critical interpretations of his portrayals of women are often contradictory, he was nevertheless recognized for his frequent depiction of what came to be known as “The Marsh Girl.”  One critic describes her as a descendant of the ‘siren’ of the cinema, a “figure of hyper-glamorized working-class femininity . . . embod[ying] a conservative ideal of post-franchise new womanhood; this New Woman had abandoned collective activism to express her independence, sexuality, and self-conscious femininity.”** 

 

     In Standpipe, Marsh captures a particularly attractive, well-dressed young woman as she strolls confidently along a Manhattan street.  Behind her, an older woman gazes longingly at merchandise displayed in a milliner’s window.  As in many of Marsh’s works, competing narratives are suggested.  What is in the mind of the older woman as she studies the merchant’s display?  Is the contrast between the two women defined by wealth, age or beauty?  

 

     The subject matter of Standpipe had been addressed by Marsh at least once previously.  In his 1939 watercolor, Hat Display, a classic “Marsh Girl” pauses outside a shop window nearly overflowing with hatted mannequin heads (Fig. 1). The woman seems to recoil from a cacophony of silent voices imploring her to step inside.  By contrast, the passing figure in Standpipe appears immune to the siren call of the millinery shop window.

 

     Marsh was never without his sketchbook. He carried it in his suit pocket as he trudged through the masses of humanity splayed on Coney Island beaches, while he attended burlesque shows and when he scoured the streets in search of suitable settings and subject matter for his pictures.  A rough preparatory sketch for Standpipe is filed among the artist’s papers at the Smithsonian Institute’s Archives of American Art (Fig. 2).  While barely hinting at the presence of figures, Marsh’s sketch details the streetscape: the standpipe situated directly in front of the cornerstone of the building, the milliner’s window, the architectural details of the doorway and shop exterior, the advertising copy at the top of the window (Here! Prices [illegible]), the faces on the disembodied heads in the window. Most of these details have made their way into the final painting, although the expressions on the faces of the models in the shop window seem more focused on the figure in the background, as if conveying mild disapproval.  The two women in the picture, however, are independent creations, studiously placed by the artist into the meticulously rendered backdrop.  

______________

* Goodrich, Lloyd, biographical essay in Reginald Marsh (exhibition catalogue, Whitney Museum of Art, 1955), p. 9.

**Todd, Ellen Wiley, The “New Woman” Revised: Painting and Gender Politics on Fourteenth Street (University of California Press, 1993), p. 178.

Fig. 2 - Reginald Marsh, background sketch of standpipe and milliner's window display (with hint of two principal figures), c. 1948, Smithsonian Institution Archives of American Art, Reginald Marsh Papers, 1897-1955, Series 5.2, Sketchbook [#22], Various Subjects, 1948-1954, Box 5, Folder 53, p. 16.