Thursday, September 22, 2011

Urban Realism

Reginald Marsh, born in Paris in 1898 was an American painter of the Social Realism movement known most for his depictions of life in New York City during the 1920s and 30s. He studied under Kenneth Hayes Miller at the Art Students League of New York, a teacher who admired Marsh’s awkward burlesque sketches and encouraged the artist to follow that line. Ten years before his death in 1954 Marsh wrote, ‘I still show him every picture I paint. I am a Miller student.’ In his younger years Marsh’s work was colored by the Depression and the divisions in social classes evidenced by the economic situation. His figures are more often than not of a type, the artist more interested in crowds than individuals. He was attracted to the burlesque, Bowery hobos, Coney Island, and the women of those milieus. He filled 200 sketchbooks with drawings done on the street, the train and at the beach, sketches that proved the very foundation of his art. While it is true that a Marsh canvas reveals something about ordinary people in street scenes, looking at a stack of his paintings it isn’t too difficult to discern that Marsh saw the American woman as a powerful and sexual figure.

Isabel Bishop was born in Cincinnati in 1902, but had moved to New York by the age of sixteen. She eventually drifted into study at the Art Students League where she studied for four years. Bishop, too had Kenneth Hayes Miller as a teacher, and from him adapted a technique similar to baroque Flemish painting. Her greatest strength was an extraordinary drawing ability. Her mature works depict the inhabitants in and around the Union Square area of downtown Manhattan, where she had a studio from 1934 until 1984. She focused her attention on the down and out men, the working-class women. Most often women, they are shown in workaday interactions, or private moments of straightening a hose or repairing make up. Color is most often muted and subordinate to the effects of light and luminosity.

Because they both studied at The Art Students League, and because they shared an interest in the same subject matter, Reginald Marsh and Isabel Bishop were lifelong friends. Both urban realists, they are often grouped together as members of the Fourteenth Street School. Their association was strong enough that In 1931 Bishop and Marsh, together with their teacher, Kenneth Hayes Miller traveled to Europe to study the Old Masters. Marsh once said about Bishop’s work, “Her people are what they are no more, no less. But they are very much what they are—they never are what they are not; for her perception cuts to the truth. Her art is at once original and traditional as is that of Thomas Eakins.”

Bowery Beauty (1946) by Reginald Marsh; Chinese ink and gouache on paper

Young Woman (1937) by Isabel Bishop; oil and egg tempura on masonite

Standpipe (1948) by Reginald Marsh; Chinese ink on paper

Tidying Up (1941) by Isabel Bishop; oil on masonite

Manhattan Skyline (1929) by Reginald Marsh; watercolor and pencil

Two Girls (1935) by Isabel Bishop; oil and tempura on composition board

1 comment:

  1. Great art. These appeal to me (and no doubt to countless others). Even with the art history classes in school, I am still in the don't-know-much-but-know-what-I-like field of appreciation. And that's okay. Art of any kind should strike chords in people no matter what their background.


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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America