Reginald Marsh (1898-1954)
Why Not Use the "L"?
Oil and tempera on canvas mounted on composition board
Overall: 36 1/8 × 48 1/8 in. (91.8 × 122.2 cm)
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Purchase
Rights and Reproductions Information
© artist or artist’s estate
In Why Not Use the “L”? the individual expressions of the three Depression-era passengers on the “L”—or “el”, an elevated train that rose above the city streets—range from distraction and exhaustion to apprehension. The walls of the car are papered with advertisements, which Reginald Marsh had meticulously copied into his sketchbooks, including one for buckwheat pancakes and the one used for the painting’s title: “The subway is fast—certainly! But the open Air Elevated gets you there quickly, too—and with more comfort. Why not use the “L”?” This particular train might have been one of the two lines that ran to Coney Island, since Marsh frequently travelled there in search of subjects to paint. One of the stops on these lines was at Eighteenth Avenue, which may account for the sign reading “East 18” in the painting’s upper right corner.