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Thursday, May 30, 2013

Reginald Marsh's Coney Island

Reginald Marsh sketching people on the beach, 193- / Gene Pyle, photographer.
Reginald Marsh papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Painter Reginald Marsh is known for his depictions of jumbled masses of humanity - at burlesque houses, on city streets, at the beach. In 1939, Life magazine crowned Marsh "America’s foremost painter of burlesque girls, slum kids, subway strap-hangers, bums, honky-tonk rakehells, fat women bathers and all the ragtag and bobtail of a big city" (Life, p. 24). Having just ushered in the unofficial start of summer with Memorial Day this past Monday, now is the time to revisit Reginald Marsh and his favorite place to find ragtag and bobtail: Coney Island.




Marsh sketching a couple on a merry-go-round, 193- / Gene Pyle, photographer.
Reginald Marsh papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
These photos of Marsh sketching from the Reginald Marsh papers at the Archives of American Art were most likely all taken at Coney Island. Marsh explained that he was drawn 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," (Cohen, p. 21) and, more to the point, "because it stinks of people and is earthy and real." (Life, p. 24)  Where better to find people in all directions and positions than at Steeplechase Park, an amusement park which boasted such attractions as the Human Roulette Wheel, the Human Pool Table, and the Barrel of Love?


Marsh sketching a a poster of a tattooed woman, 193-
Gene Pyle, photographer. Reginald Marsh papers,
Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Though Coney Island was dealt a serious blow by Hurricane Sandy last October, the beach and boardwalk are well on their way to recovery and officially opened for business this Memorial Day Weekend. No doubt this summer the Island will be teeming with bathers, fun-seekers, and the stink of humanity as usual. Reginald Marsh would be pleased.

Bettina Smith, Digital Projects Librarian
Archives of American Art

Further reading:

Cohen, Marilyn. Reginald Marsh's New York : paintings, drawings, prints, and photographs. New York: Dover Publications, 1983.

MacCullough, Edo. Good Old Coney Island: A Sentimental Journey Into the Past : the Most Rambunctious, Scandalous, Rapscallion, Splendiferous, Pugnacious, Spectacular, Illustrious, Prodigious, Frolicsome Island on Earth. Fordham Univ Press, 1957.

"Educated Like a Rich Man's Son, Marsh Prefers to Paint Poor Men." Life 9 Jan. 1939: 24-26. 

1 comment:

  1. I was fortunate enough to be a student of Mr Pyle during his time at Morehead State University. His hands on approach served his students well and I was very fortunate to receive several of his photographs as gifts upon graduation. His style was more of an old world painter, with a pleasant disposition he exemplified what every teacher admires.

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