Swing Time: Reginald Marsh and Thirties New York

June 21, 2013
September 01, 2013

With his calligraphic brushstrokes and densely cluttered, multi-figured compositions, Reginald Marsh recorded the vibrancy and energetic pulse of New York City. In paintings, prints, watercolors and photographs, he captured the animation and visual turbulence that made urban New York life an exhilarating spectacle. His work depicted the visual energy the city, its helter-skelter signs, newspaper and magazine headlines and the crowded conditions of its street life and recreational pastimes.

His subjects were not glamorous or affluent New Yorkers, but those in the middle and lower class—Bowery bums, burlesque queens, Coney Island musclemen, park denizens, subway riders and post-flapper era sirens. Marsh was fascinated by the crass glamour, gaudiness and sexuality these city inhabitants exhibited in public, as well as by the humanity expressed by those living under severe economic and social duress. His technical combination of choppy brushwork and thinly applied tempera created the effect of a continual surface flickering, which causes the eye to move without rest from place to place across the painting. Marsh heightened this sense of agitated and accelerated movement by means of asymmetrically framed scenes and avoidance of an obvious focal point. The result was a sequential unfolding of episodes across his canvas surfaces, which evoked the transience, motion and vitality of New York City in the 1930s.


This project is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts

Creative: Tronvig Group