American Art of the Week

American Art of the Week: Wonderland Circus, Sideshow Coney Island by Reginald Marsh

Reginald Marsh, Wonderland Circus, Sideshow Coney Island, 1930.Tempera on canvas stretched on Masonite.  Today’s painting is not yet in the public domain, so click here to view it. I try so hard never to do post about works I can’t actually show you, but this artist is too wonderful to overlook simply because he died less than seventy years ago.

I’m fascinated by painter/muralist/illustrator Reginald Marsh’s (1894-1954) art, but I’m not always sure what to make of it. I love his bright colors, crowded images, and slices of American life in the roaring twenties life. However, I’m always a little confused by his tone, if that makes any sense. His works were usually common people rather than the rich and famous, often focusing on entertainment and frequently including less-than-reputable characters and behaviors. In his use of these subjects, he reminds he a little of British artist William Hogarth, but Marsh does not share Hogarth’s morality and didacticism. He is considered a Social Realist, but his exaggerated, cartoon-like aesthetic – both voluptuous and ethereal at various times – is far removed from most other artists to share that classification. It also seems (at least in my mind) to discourage the social activist messages and motives commonly seen in the movement. In other words, I enjoy looking at Marsh’s art, but I always feel a little less intelligent that I’d like when I do so. I haven’t had much chance to study his work, so I think I will remedy this by reading a good book about Marsh. Any recommendations?

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