Traffic Post, 14th Street, oil on Masonite, 12 x 48 inches, 1952, signed and dated lower right; Exhibited: Reginald Marsh, at the Whitney Museum of American Art (New York) from September 21 to November 6, 1955, #42, The Columbus Gallery of Fine Arts, November 27 to December 25, 1955, The Detroit Institute of Arts, January 13, to February 12, 1956, The City Museum of St. Louis March 2 to April 1, 1956, The Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, April 15 to May 20, 1956, The Los Angeles county Museum June 10 to July 8, 1956, The Santa Barbara Museum of Art, July 25 to August 26, 1956 and The San Francisco Museum of Art, September 13 to October 14, 1956; listed in the exhibition catalog, p. 22 (“Traffic Post, 14th Street, 1952. Oil. 48 x 12. Lent by Dr. and Mrs. James E. Ziegler, Jr.”, writing of this work and several others in the exhibition catalog, Lloyd Goodrich noted, “From the middle 1940’s, Marsh’s style exhibited interesting new developments. His subjects remained the same, the chief addition being the entertaining series of tall upright paintings featuring the lampposts and traffic signs of New York. But subject matter now seemed a springboard, a starting point for pictorial and technical excursions. Sometimes the subject appeared remote from ordinary reality, as if it was a memory and the greater reality was the work of art for which it served as motif.” (p. 15)); also listed in Marsh’s Art Notebook #8 Lists of Work (by Type) 1930 – 1953, p. 21 (under the year 1952, “Dec 15 Post (for Ziegler) 14th St. & 4th Ave. NE corner oil over drawing 48 x 12 and “Dec 18 Traffic Post 14th St. 4th Ave NE Ziglers 48 x 12”); several sketches of the same traffic pole from 1952 and 1953 are in the archives of American Art in the “Loose Sketches: Traffic Signals 1949 – 1954” file; illustrated twice in Goodrich, Lloyd, Reginald Marsh, New York (1973), p. 279 and discussed pp. 268 – 269.
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About the Painting
Traffic Light, 14th Street is part of a small, but innovative, group of critically acclaimed pillar paintings completed by Reginald Marsh toward the end of his career. We will let Lloyd Goodrich, former Director of the Whitney Museum of American Art explain, “One definitely new subject appeared, in a series of eight tall, narrow vertical paintings of the lampposts and traffic signals of New York. Marsh liked the old-fashioned posts with their ornament, unfunctional design, their heavy basses, their iron filigree work, and all the objects that had become attached to them; traffic lights and a multitude of directional signs, arrow and warnings. One particular post at Fourteenth Street and Union Square was a model for four or five paintings. The old lampposts were beginning to be replaced by streamlined ones, which he regretted, saying: ‘The new ones are not so good to look at’ . . . other oils such as Traffic Post, 14th Street are painted throughout in substantial pigment and with a fully loaded brush. But instead of the uniform impasto of his earlier Maroger pictures, there is variation between thick and thin, opaque and transparent. He was now using the oil medium as it should be used, and as he had always striven to use it: with both rich substance and translucency, with no loss of draftsman-like skill but without too much dependence on line, and with all his gift for drawing with the brush. . . .To compare two portraits of the same object, the oil Traffic Post, 14th Street within its restricted color range is rich in substance and painterly in style; the tempera No Turns is transparent in handling, pale in color, and linear in technique, but it has a luminosity that was new in his work. Even at this stage there was still this curious division in his painting technique and style. He was still searching for the methods that would suit him best. If he had lived longer he would probably have brought these two styles together, achieving the substance of oil and the luminosity of tempera. As it was, his paintings of these years, though not as large or complex as some of his earlier works, marked an advance in intrinsic quality. The exuberance of former years had been replaced by refinement and skill.”
About the Artist
Reginald Marsh defined the look of a generation of New York City artists. Adopting, a social realist vocabulary, he was the consummate storyteller of urban America during the 1920s through the early 1950s, when he painted Traffic Post, 14th Street. Marsh was born in France, the son of two artists, Fred Dana Marsh and Alice Randall. After his return to the United States, Marsh graduated from Yale University before relocating to New York City where he worked as an illustrator for the Daily News and Vanity Fair. In 1921-22, he studied at the Art Students League with Joan Sloan, George Bridgman, Kenneth Hays Miller and George Luks. The combination of illustration work and exposure to the prior generation’s Ash Can School traditions was a potent mix for Marsh who prowled the city in search of stories to tell. He found them in burlesque shows, under elevated trains, at the beaches of Coney Island, in the city’s subways, and at the camps of the Depression Era unhoused in the Bowery. Marsh had early success with solo shows at the Whitney Club in 1924 and again in 1928. In 1925, he traveled to Europe and became immersed in the look and feel of the Old Masters. Marsh was introduced to egg tempera by Thomas Benton and also adopted an emulsion technique, Maroger Medium, which replicated Old Master practices. Marsh completed a mural for the Treasury Department’s Section of Painting and Sculpture and served as a much beloved instructor at the Art Students League. He maintained a studio at Union Square and was a leader in what became known at the 14th Street School of artists. From the 1920s through his early death at the age of fifty-six, Marsh was a critical darling and commercially successful with representation by Frank K. M. Rehn Galleries in New York. Marsh’s works were selected multiple times at every important national exhibition. He showed over three dozen paintings at the Whitney’s Biennials alone between 1924 and 1954 and the museum honored him with a respective, which included Traffic Post, 14th Street, the year after his death. That exhibition traveled for across the nation to seven other museums over the course of two years. Shortly before his death, Marsh received the Gold Medal from the National Institute of Arts and Letters, an impressive honor for a visual artist. Marsh is listed in Who was Who in American Art and all other standard references.