Reginald Marsh (1898-1954), The Outlaw, c.1950; Chinese ink with watercolor on paper, Overall: 22 3/8 x 15 3/8 in. (56.8 x 39.1 cm) Frame: 30 1/2 x 22 3/4 in. (77.5 x 57.8 cm); Burchfield Penney Art Center, Members' Fund Purchase, 1980
Watercolor I took up and took to it well, with no introduction
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
“Watercolor I took up and took to it well, with no introduction.”
-- Reginald Marsh, Twentieth Century American Watercolor
In 1898, Marsh was born in Paris to American artists, Fred Dana Marsha and Alice Randall Marsh, but moved to Nutley, New Jersey shortly after. He is best known for watercolor and egg tempera paintings (however he also did a number of linocuts, lithographs and engravings), recording his own perceptions of New York and its urban scene, creating honest images, free of romanticized visions. Many of his paintings depict ordinary people - burlesque shows and salon prostitutes, sunbathers, the city night-life, or industrial or city views (New York and Coney Island). By using watercolor as his primary medium, Marsh was able to present the grittiness of his subjects in a soft way. Never considering New York City as ‘soft’; the skyscrapers bring to mind ‘hard’ and ‘sharp’ but somehow Marsh flips these perceptions.
Under the tutelage of Kenneth Hays Miller at the Arts Student League, Marsh was encouraged to build upon his earlier sketches and watercolor landscapes, “These awkward things are your work. These are real. Stick to these things and don’t let anyone dissuade you!”. Had it not been for Miller, the watercolors we see today may have looked very different. Marsh’s pieces are a mix of heavy, linear brushstrokes, and ink. They demonstrate his early history as an illustrator and cartoonist, first for the Yale Record while attending the Yale Art School, and then at the New York Daily News (hired in 1922) and The New Yorker. Intriguingly, when The New Yorker began publication in1924, Marsh was one of the magazines first cartoonists.
Marsh’s techniques are much like a watercolor itself; he applied layers of his knowledge and his skill to create his beautiful and renown pieces, just as he might apply layers of blue and green to achieve just the right sky for his New York Skyline. He was able to reveal the grittiness of New York City, hurrying to capture its energized spirit – it is for this reason that he is said to have preferred watercolor and egg tempera to oil paints. Marsh “liked transparence”, so watercolor and tempera suited his preference. In 1939, he put a decade of success with tempera behind him and turned to painting with watercolors on a more ambitious scale because they gave him clarity and allowed for better drawing. The Outlaw, in the collection at the Burchfield Penney Art Center, illustrates his prominent use of bright colors and ink but again, shows how he manages to soften the image.
On July 2, 1954, Marsh died in Dorset, Vermont from a heart attack. After his death, many of his prints and a number of unpublished sketches were found in his estate. Like Charles E. Burchfield, Marsh was a persistent writer, and recorded his work on a daily basis.
Britt Franklin is a Museum Studies masters’ student with a passion for history – modern and ancient - and making Collections in Museums and Galleries more accessible and inviting to the public. Having spent the past 10 years on the move, Britt has put down roots in Buffalo and has learned to embrace the snow and cold weather.