Reginald Marsh (1898–1954), Manhattan Towers Posted on July 22nd, 2014 by

Manhattan TowersReginald Marsh (1898–1954)
Manhattan Towers, 1932
Watercolor over graphite on paper, 14 x 20 inches
Gift of the Reverend Richard L. Hillstrom

Marsh studied art at Yale University, and later at the Art Students League in 1927 and 1928. At the League, his principal instructor was Kenneth Hayes Miller (1876–1952), whose own artistic proclivities were in consonance with Marsh, especially in their choice of urban, New York subjects. The two men remained lifelong friends. Marsh’s typical subjects were the burlesque shows of the City, destitute men and women in the depression-hit Bowery, working-class sunbathers at Coney Island, and the general topography of the city. There are a number of etchings from the same decade as this watercolor of the New York skyline in which he shows the growing, changing profile of the city from numerous vantage points. This watercolor, dated 1932, is a view of midtown Manhattan from across the East River, probably in Brooklyn. The foreground includes machinery such as the crane in the upper left, while in the background the blue, gray and violet tones of the city appear. Central in this vista of the city is the famous Chrysler Building, then, as now, widely admired as one of the most beautiful skyscrapers. Its construction had been completed less than two years earlier, in mid 1930, and when it was dedicated, it overtook the Eiffel Tower as the tallest building on earth, standing 1,046 feet high. This was a record that did not last long, however, since the Empire State Building broke it after only a few months the following year. Even without the record for tallest building, the Chrysler Building remained a symbol in New York. With its sleek, Art Deco design, which incorporated stylized metal hubcaps, hood ornaments, car fenders, and radiator caps turned into gargoyles, it was a symbol of the progress and the liveliness of New York, and so was very apt as a subject for Marsh. This painting captures those qualities that were of such primary concern to the artist. It also reveals Marsh’s fine artistic sense, in the alternatively broad, and then detailed handling of the paint, and in the fine composition of the scene.

Text from the catalogue for the exhibition The Eight, The Ashcan School, and The American Scene in the Hillstrom Collection, presented in the Hillstrom Museum of Art February 25 through April 21, 2013.


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