At the Movies: Reginald Marsh and Edward Hopper

29 Feb

Reginald Marsh, Usherette (1939)

Note: click on any image to enlarge

Reginald Marsh (1898-1954) was a Paris-born American painter known mostly for his depictions of life in New York City in the 1920s and 30s.  He is best known for his depictions of Coney Island and popular entertainment — vaudeville, burlesque, the movies and ordinary people going about their daily business.  Marsh first studied art in the early 1920s under John Sloan, one of the founding members of the Ashcan School.  You can easily see the similarity in style between the two painters — there’s a distinctive earthy vitality to the works of both.

Marsh was friend to a young Thomas Merton — later to become the famous monk at Gethsemani Abbey — when Merton was attending Columbia University.  In his autobiography The Seven Storey Mountain Merton alludes to his adventures with Marsh.  If you find yourself in New York City check out the Reginald Marsh murals in the rotunda of the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House located at 1 Bowling Green in lower Manhattan.

Edward Hopper, New York Movie (1939)

Edward Hopper (1882-1967) was born in Nyack, New York and studied under both William Merritt Chase and Robert Henri — and was influenced more by Henri.  Like Sloan — who taught Marsh — Henri was a founding member of the Ashcan School and probably its most influential member.  The Ashcan School emphasized the depiction of unalloyed reality — the gritty truth of the world — and while this philosophy can be readily seen in the works of both Marsh and Hopper, how differently they applied it!

Where Sloan and Marsh depict the bustle of the city, Hopper shows its desolation.  There’s a cool, appraising solitude to Hopper’s work that is as distinctive as Sloan’s and Marsh’s electric activity.  Hopper’s characters are almost invariably  isolated and looking inward.  Existentialism and Ecclesiastes — that’s the domain of Hopper.

Reginald Marsh, Twenty Cent Movie (1936)

It’s interesting how two realist painters, contemporaries, treated similar subjects in such different ways:  Marsh looking strongly outward, Hopper focused intensely inward.  The comparison of their work provides an example of the inner world of the artist spilling forth in ways as singular as a human finger print.  As Robert Henri eloquently put it: “Don’t worry about your originality. You couldn’t get rid of it even if you wanted to.  It will stick with you and show up for better or worse in spite of all you or anyone else can do.”  Amen.

Edward Hopper, Circle Theatre (1936)

2 Responses to “At the Movies: Reginald Marsh and Edward Hopper”

  1. stank August 7, 2013 at 3:06 am #

    excellent article on Hopper and Marsh. having seen a show in NY this summer on each artist, I am struck by the sharp contrast in their work, Hopper so austere and pensive, and Marsh so exuberant and sexy. As contemporaries living in NY they might have known each other, and as a native New Yorker who went to college in the Village in the 1950’s, I might have seen Hopper, and perhaps Marsh. Despite their differences, they did look rather alike.. Nice blog.

    • bobbalouie August 7, 2013 at 11:15 am #

      Thank you for commenting! I agree with your assessment. It’s that difference in views of the same subject that first caught my attention. I’m happy you enjoy my blog – it really is nice to get feedback. Thanks again. Bob

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