Reginald Marsh

About the Artist

Portrait of Reginald March by Alexander Brook, 1929

Reginald Marsh was one of America’s finest painters and chroniclers of urban life in the 1930s and 40s.

Early Life and Education

Reginald Marsh was born in Paris in 1898, in an apartment above the Café du Dôme, where artists and writers gathered. Marsh was the second son born to Americans Alice Randall, who painted miniatures and Frederick Dana Marsh, who painted murals.

The family was well off, thanks to the success of Marsh’s paternal grandfather’s meatpacking business.

When Marsh was two years old, the family moved to an artists’ colony in Nutley, New Jersey. After attending Lawrenceville School, he went to Yale, where worked as an illustrator for The Yale Record.

Career

After graduating from Yale in 1920, Marsh moved to New York, hoping to find work as an illustrator.

He began taking classes at the Art Students League in 1921. His teacher was Ashcan Painter, John Sloan, who inspired Marsh to pursue painting.

In 1922, Marsh was hired by The New York Daily News, where he was assigned to draw vaudeville and burlesque performers for a regular feature column.

In 1923, Marsh married Betty Burroughs, who was the daughter of the curator of painting at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and herself a sculptor. They divorced in 1933, and he married his second wife, Felicia Meyer, a landscape painter, in 1934.

Marsh had his first solo exhibit at the Whitney Studio Club in 1924.

Reginald Marsh
They Pay to See
Tempera on masonite
26 3/4 x 20inches
Signed and dated: Reginald Marsh 1934 (l.c.)
For sale at Surovek

In 1925, The New Yorker began publishing and Marsh became a regular contributor to the magazine from 1925 to 1944.

Marsh traveled back to Europe in 1925. He was in a Paris gallery when he met American Regionalist painter, Thomas Hart Benton. The influence of both Benton and the European masters, like Tintoretto, is apparent in Marsh’s works.

Reginald Marsh
Zeke Youngblood’s Dance Marathon, 1932
© 2013 Estate of Reginald Marsh/Art Students League/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
(Reginald Marsh/© Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute / Art Resource)

When he returned to New York in 1926, Marsh began taking fewer commercial jobs and began doing more serious paintings. He was fascinated by the crowds and working class of New York and captured the buzz of city life. He was not a part of the working class, but an observer.

Reginald Marsh
Why Not Use the “L”?, 1930
Whitney Museum of American Art

Marsh worked in egg tempera and also sketched, photographs and etched. His etching Bread Line—No One Has Starved, underscores the severity of the Depression. The title scoffs a remark made by President Hoover. The etching is in the permanent collection of the Met.

Reginald Marsh (American, Paris 1898–1954 Dorset, Vermont)
Bread Line, 1929
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Some of Marsh’s greatest works were done during FDR’s Public Works of Art Project, designed to give artists and writers jobs during the Depression. Sorting the Mail, done in 1936, is a masterful look at a moment in the day of a postal worker.

Legacy

Reginald Marsh became one of the most influential teachers at the Art Students League, from 1935 through 1954. He helped to influence a style and character of art that is uniquely American.

Reginald Marsh
Sorting the Mail, 1936
Mural in the William Jefferson Clinton Federal Building, Washington, D.C.

Marsh’s works can be found in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Boca Raton Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Vero Beach Museum of Art and other major museums and galleries.

His murals grace the US Customs House in NYC and the US Post Office in Washington, D.C.

On July 3, 1954, Marsh suffered a heart attack and died, at the age of 56, at his home in Dorset, Vermont.

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