Old Master Paintings, Drawings, and British Portraits


REGINALD MARSH (Paris 1898 – Vermont 1954)

A Study Sheet of Female Nudes with Embracing and Dancing Couples

black ink on cream paper

9 x 12 inches               (23 x 30.5 cm.)


Acquired from the artist by

Edward Laning (who inherited Marsh’s studio) to

Jack Henderson (executor of Edward Laning’s estate) from whom acquired by

Private Collection, New York


Reginald Marsh was a painter, draughtsman, illustrator and etcher.  He studied at Yale University where he contributed drawings and cartoons to the Yale Record.  In the early 1920s he studied at the Art Students League in New York with John Sloan, George Bridgeman, George Luks and Kenneth Hayes Miller, while also working as a staff artist for the Daily News and a cartoonist at The New Yorker.  During his sojourn at The New Yorker (1925-1931) Frank Crowninshield asked him to visit Coney Island and make a page of sketches for Vanity Fair, a place that he had never previously visited.  Marsh fell in love with its crowds, sights and throbbing vitality which afforded him lifelong subject matter.  All of New York City further captivated Marsh with its ever changing landscape, especially the Bowery, Harlem, the harbor, its subways, burlesque shows and even the opera. From 1935 until his death in 1954 Marsh taught at the Art Students League.  He was a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters, National Academy of Design and the Royal Society of Artists in London.  His work can be found in numerous museums throughout the United States.  Due to his devotion to New York City Marsh left his audience and unequalled recording of modern city life. Yet at the heart of his urban kaleidoscope lay humanity and this was always his ultimate subject. [1]

Marsh drew incessantly, from an early age.  His childhood drawings were preserved by his parents.

Throughout his mature life, as part of his artistic practice, he returned to drawing from nature.  The subjects that interested him were wide ranging.  But, by far, it was the human figures that held his greatest interest.

These two superb sheets of drawings were probably created in the 1940s, around the time when he was an ardent student of human anatomy.  This included medical anatomical dissection studies.  In addition, he studied the great old master drawings, anatomical and artistic – Vesalius, Rubens, and Michelangelo among others.  As a result of the activities a book was published, Anatomy for Artists, in 1945. [2]  In addition he left an unpublished manuscript for another anatomy book.

Marsh would hire professional artist’s models, as well as actors and actresses.  He definitely seemed to be most interested in female models judging by the frequency he portrayed them.

The primary purpose of these drawings was for study of the human figure in action and thus he favored short poses, perhaps no more than 30 minutes, as opposed to longer more traditional staid postures.  Some of the individual figures, because of the difficulty of the pose, were probably created in five minutes, as can been seen in each of the sheets.  The studies became part of his vocabulary and might be used literally or remembered in his paintings; he internalized the human figure.

These two drawings are excellent examples of his late work and offer a great variety, some are larger individual figures, more developed, and others just suggesting the action.  In the earliest part of his career, he created figure studies using pen and ink, and other media.  Later on he made larger studies of single figures in red chalk.  But by the 40s and later, he truly mastered the use of pen and ink, using either a Waterman fountain pen or fine English steel nibs.  His choice was generally to use a nib that was flexible and very sensitive to his touch, so that the line he laid down was totally responsive to his hand to what he was observing, and his experience.  Notice in these drawings both the careful observation and the quality of the lines, as if they were actually drawing on the flesh.  A single line of varying thickness gives the viewer the volume of the forms and cross-hatching technique adds to the volumetric effect.  Pressure on the nib yields variations in the thickness of each line.  There is great fluidity in these later pen and ink drawings.  One feels as though the drawn figure is palpable, and could be lifted from the page, and is alive.

There is great joy in these drawings, and appreciation of the wonders of the human form in action.  They dance across the page and create a unique composition of figures in visual relationships if not in actual interactions.  Studies such as these laid the groundwork for large paintings, obviously synthesized rather than observed as a whole from nature.  Large figure compositions, filled with figures in action, were a major part of Marsh’s Coney Island Beach subjects when he was making large ink wash paintings in the 40s and 50s. 

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has an extensive collection of Marsh’s small figure drawings.

Norman Sasowsky

Norman Sasowsky was mentored by Marsh in the last two years of Marsh’s life.  Sasowsky became the “curator” of Marsh’s Estate upon his death in 1954 and served in this capacity for twenty-five years.  He is Professor Emeritus, University of Delaware, Newark, Delaware.



[1] Biographical information taken from Edward Laning, The Sketchbooks of Reginald Marsh, New York Graphic Society Ltd., Greenwich, Connecticut, 1973, pp. 23, 48, 58; Norman Sasowsky, The Prints of Reginald Marsh, C.N. Potter, New York, c. 1976, pp. 9-10; Glen B. Opitz, ed., Mantle Fielding’s Dictionary of American Painters, Sculptors and Engravers, Apollo Book, Poughkeepsie, New York, 1986, p. 584; and Deedee Wigmore, Reginald Marsh (1898-1954) Urban Realist Master of Many Media, catalogue D. Wigmore Fine Art Inc., New York, 2008, pp. 5, 7.

[2] See Reginald Marsh, Anatomy for Artists, American Artists Group, New York, 1945.

Lawrence Steigrad Fine Arts

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