Ink and charcoal on paper
22 1/2 x 30 11/16 inches
Wichita Art Museum, Bequest of Felicia Meyer Marsh
Not Currently on Display
About the Artwork
For over thirty years Reginald Marsh was captivated by the many facets of New York City’s urban landscape. Although best known for his depictions of the diverse inhabitants who animated the city, Marsh also deftly captured its busy maritime life and awe-inspiring skyline. The artist filled his notebooks with sketches of the New York harbor, studying the bustling movement of the tugboats, barges and ocean liners that transported both people and goods from shore to shore. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s Marsh translated his observations into a broad variety of media: etchings, engravings, watercolors, tempera and oil paintings. Although finished works in their own right, many of these served a preparatory role in Marsh’s designs for his 1937 mural decoration of the rotunda of the U.S. Custom House in New York.
In 1950 when Marsh executed this untitled ink and charcoal drawing, he returned to a familiar subject, but with a fresh formal and conceptual approach. In the 1940s Marsh conjoined his predilection for graphic and black and white media in his large-scale experiments with Chinese ink on paper. By dissolving charcoal sticks in water Marsh could produce a variety of ink tonalities that were easily manipulated and lent themselves to the artist’s urban subject matter.
Whereas Marsh’s earlier panoramic views of Manhattan from Governor’s Island or Brooklyn served as a backdrop to the harbor’s activities, in his drawing of 1950 the skyline itself dominates. Marsh places the viewer on a cluttered pier looking over East River to the city beyond. The use of dark ink clearly establishes a projecting foreground space and adds to the dirty, viscous urban atmosphere. Wet daubs and dashes of ink demarcate the waterway that fills the compressed middle ground area. Two boats act as intermediaries connecting the two shores and above them rise skyscrapers, creating a dense, almost impenetrable wall. Broad areas of pale, gray ink give form to the architecture and indicate shadows while areas left white create the impression of three-dimensionality and specify a strong light striking the south side of the buildings. To accentuate and individualize the architecture Marsh added a variety of charcoal lines. In the buildings these lines run horizontally, thereby counteracting the vertical thrust of the buildings themselves.
Although the inhabitants of the city are not visible, their movement is implied in the animation of the man-made buildings and boats. In the sky, clouds, haze and puffs of smoke rendered with extra layers of ink wash and agitated charcoal lines act as surrogates for the absent human figures and attest to the activity below.