Signed and dated 'Reginald Marsh 45' bottom center right, oil on Masonite
24 1/8 x 29 15/16 in. (61.3 x 76cm)
Maxwell Galleries Ltd., San Francisco, California.
Frank K.M. Rehn Galleries, New York, New York.
Sid Deutsch Gallery Inc., New York, New York.
ACA Galleries, New York, New York.
Eaton Fine Art Inc., West Palm Beach, Florida.
Acquired directly from the above.
Private Collection, Florida.
The Bowery is a neighborhood located in a section of Lower Manhattan. Originally a group of Dutch farms, the area developed a rough reputation at the turn of the century, soon becoming a symbol of America's Great Depression. By the 1940's, when Reginald Marsh painted this scene, the neighborhood was New York City's 'Skid Row,' the turf of several street gangs, and the home of prostitutes, immigrants and other blue-collar workers. It is no surprise that Marsh chose the Bowery as his subject because of his link with the Ashchan School, which promoted a journalistic approach to depicting daily life in New York's poor neighborhoods. Marsh was particularly concerned with the exploitation of the millions of unemployed women in the nation, and enjoyed portraying them as independent figures.
Painted in 1945, 'Bowery Scene' depicts a solitary woman among a crowd of men, along what seems to be the Third Avenue El. This elevated railway ran above the Bowery from 1878 to 1955. The men, all dressed in black and cloaked in shadows, stare at the red-haired woman, who is at the center of the composition. As is often the case with Marsh, this scene depicts an attractive and confident woman. Dressed in an elegant red coat which subtly accentuates the curves of her body, she walks through the crowd with natural ease, a smile on her face and hands in her pockets. Carol Troyen, who authored Edward Hopper's biography (Edward Hopper being Marsh's close friend), said Marsh usually portrayed women, and especially women of the streets, "as goddesses, frequently in poses derived from classical statuary." This statement is supported by our heroine's elegant 'contrapposto' and the mythologically inspired nude studies on the reverse side of the Masonite. In comparison, the woman's admirers look pitiful. All seem tired, and lack energy and vibrancy. This contrast is Marsh's way to illustrate, and maybe temper, the highly misogynist and male-dominated sexual culture of New York in the 1940's. While men are seen as leering and lusty creatures, women are depicted as empowered figures who stand out in spite of their male counterparts.