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Reclining Nude

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Reclining Nude

Artist: Reginald Marsh (American, 1898 - 1954)

Date: c.1935
Medium: Red conte crayon on light gray-toned wove paper
Overall: 13 15/16 x 17 3/4in. (35.4 x 45.1cm)
Inscribed: Recto, lower right center (graphite): "Reginald Marsh"
Credit Line: Gift of Edward W. Root
Object number: 50.31
Text Entries

That Reginald Marsh should draw models from life in a studio setting may seem unlikely for someone who, by his own admission, preferred to roam relentlessly around New York, sketching its more colorful denizens in burlesque houses, Coney Island, Union Square, and the Bowery.(2) Indeed, a contemporary wrote, “The nude women in burlesque shows have, among other advantages, that of providing Marsh with models whose ‘sittings’ don’t have to be paid for.”(3) Lloyd Goodrich perpetuated this perception when he stated, “The conventional studio nude was not for him; it had to be the figure as seen in the real world, from the shopgirl on the street to the burlesque stripper dropping her clothes one by one.”(4) In fact, though, Marsh employed models throughout his career. His engagement calendars consistently list sessions and fees paid,(5) and his sketchbooks are filled with images of male and female models striking traditional poses.(6)

In a 1947 statement,(7) Marsh claims to have begun drawing before the age of three. After his death in 1954, the inventory of his estate included thousands of works on paper in pencil, red crayon, pen and ink, watercolor, and charcoal. Like George Luks and members of The Eight, Marsh initially was employed as an artist-reporter; he specialized in caricatures of vaudeville performers. After his 1925-26 trip to Europe, however, he became a devotee of the Old Masters, particularly Rubens.(8) The red conté crayon of the MWPI drawing immediately evokes not only Baroque influences but also eighteenth—century French sources. Marsh handles the medium deftly, defining the figure with a sure contour but softening the effect by smoothly smudging the crayon. Marsh’s soft touch under- scores the model’s sexuality, which is literally foregrounded by her pose: with her arms supporting herself from behind, she pushes her body toward artist and viewer. That she sits on a low mattress or platform only heightens the sensation of her availability.(9)

Marsh’s reputation for drawing from life was sufficiently well known in 1941 that he was featured in an article about artists’ models. He was quoted to state, “Girls who are of American descent, and particularly those from the Midwest, feel humiliated by such work . . . they’re easily embarrassed and afraid they’ll lose face by being known as models. But girls still under the European influences, and living in crowded quarters, are less concerned about such things.”(10) If one can overlook the curious notion that mid-western girls are of “American descent” (presumably Marsh was referring to white women whose ancestry was, at some remove, European), Marsh’s statement betrays a class distinction about the artist’s model that may reveal not only societal opinion but also his own bias. One may ask if Marsh himself felt more comfortable drawing nude “girls still under the European influences”—that is, recent immigrants—than women he perceived to be closer to his own socioeconomic class.


1. A March 3, 1937, statement from the Weyhe Gallery to Marsh for sales from 1935-36 includes two nude drawings bought for ten dollars each in 1935. There is no indication of the medium nor of the buyer, but Edward Root acquired two red conté crayon drawings by Marsh, and it is possible that this was one of them. See Reginald Marsh Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., microfilm 2234, frame 361.

2. See Marilyn Cohen, Reginald Marsh’s New York (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art in association with Dover Publications, Inc., 1983).

3. Harry Salpeter, “The Roar of the City,” Esquire, June 1935, in a scrapbook from the Rehn Gallery Papers, Archives of American Art, microfilm 2708, frames 1013- 14.

4. Lloyd Goodrich lecture notes, 1955, Whitney Museum of American Art Papers, Archives of American Art, microfilm N676, frame 162. Goodrich’s statement does beg the question, however, about the relationship between the “real world” and striptease.

5. See, for example, Marsh’s pocket calendar for 1954, Marsh Papers, microfilm NRM2, frame 113. See also Marsh’s notebook #10, pages 135-52, which lists names and addresses or phone numbers of male and female models; Marsh Papers, microfilm 2234, frames 472-80.

6. See, for example, Edward Laning, The Sketchbooks of ReginaId Marsh (Greenwich, Conn; New York Graphic Society Ltd, 1973), 113-21.

7. Artist’s statement, February 24, 1947, Whitney Museum of American Art Papers, microfilm N675, frames 612-13.

8. Artist's statement, as in note 7. See also Reginald Marsh, “Let’s Get Back to Painting,” Magazine of Art (December 1941): 293-96, and Isabel Bishops May 26, 1954, speech at the presentation to Marsh of the Gold Medal for Graphic Arts by the National Institute of Arts and Letters, Marsh Papers, microfilm 2233, frames 627-28.

9. See also Ellen Wiley Todd, The “New Woman” Revised: Painting and Gender Politics on Fourteenth Street (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), 192-93, and Cohen, Reginald Marsh’s New York, 27. It is interesting to compare the compliant pose of this model to the standing, self-assured woman posing in a public sphere of the classroom in Marsh’s etching Guy Pene du Bois School of Art, 1934.

10. Ray Peacock, “The Forgotten Models,” was a wire story carried by The Pueblo Star Journal on Monday, December 1, 1941; Marsh Papers, scrapbook #7, microfilm 2235, frame 488. Interestingly, the article, which was accompanied by a photograph of Marsh drawing from a very judiciously posed nude model, says nothing about male models.


Presumed copyright: the artist or the artist's representative/heir(s) / Licensing by ARS, New York, NY.