REGINALD MARSH (1898–1954)
Metropolitan Opera, 1940
Chinese ink and watercolor on paper, 22 3/4 x 15 3/4 in.
Signed, dated, and inscribed (at lower right): METROPOLITAN OPERA / REGINALD MARSH '40
EXHIBITED: Museum of Art, Sciences & Industry, Bridgeport, Connecticut, on loan // Greenberg Gallery, St. Louis, Missouri // Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York, January–April 1986, Reginald Marsh: Paintings and Works on Paper, no. 4 illus.
EX COLL: the artist; to William Benton, Connecticut, until 1973, to his son and daughter-in-law, Charles and Marjorie Benton, Willmette, Illinois; sale, Sotheby’s New York, May 28, 1987, no. 344 illus.; to A. Alfred Taubman, New York; to sale, Sotheby’s, New York, September 18, 2015; to private collection, New York, until the present
In 1934, Reginald Marsh took a break from his habitual favorite theater venues, the gaudy, raucous precincts of New York’s burlesque houses, to visit a different theater as gaudy and over the top as its downscale cousins: The Metropolitan Opera House. Marsh’s 1 etching and engraving, Box at the Metropolitan, is a view of a box in the theater’s famed “golden horseshoe.” Three extravagantly dressed society ladies occupy front row seats, while their three male escorts in appropriate evening dress stand behind. Periodically, until 1940, Marsh revisited the Metropolitan Opera, always fixated on the performance in the boxes rather than the doings on the stage. In 1940, Marsh returned to his 1934 composition, this time working in Chinese ink and watercolor, roughly quadrupling its size, and varying the dress and gestures of his six opera goers. They remain, despite or perhaps because of the elegant trappings, recognizable Marsh New Yorkers. But their self-proclaimed wealth and status wins them no deference from this artist of the masses and occasionally, as here, the classes.
Metropolitan Opera places Marsh firmly in an artistic tradition dating at least to the time of the Netherlandish painter Pieter Breughel the Elder (1525–1569), a keen observer of the foibles and folkways of his time and place. This is the artist as witness and chronicler—sometimes critical, sometimes sympathetic but always at a distance. Through Hogarth in England to Daumier in France and Marsh in Jazz Age / Depression era New York City, these artists cast an appraising eye on the manners and morals around them. As much as any other American 20th-century artist, Marsh had the pedigree to take his place in this distinguished lineage. From the Yale Record to The New Yorker with training in Renaissance figural techniques applied to American figural realism adapted to the ethos of the American impressionism as realized in the subject matter of the Ashcan School, Reginald Marsh had the skill and spirit to carry on that tradition. Metropolitan Opera is his contribution to an ongoing legacy of art designed to bring a jolt of recognition and a smile.