Reginald Marsh (1898-1954)
Negroes on Rockaway Beach
Tempera and ink on composition board
Overall: 30 1/16 × 40 in. (76.4 × 101.6 cm)
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Albert Hackett
Rights and Reproductions Information
© artist or artist’s estate
A habitué of urban New York, Reginald Marsh was especially captivated by the city’s beaches at Coney Island and the Rockaways. During the summertime, he often visited these locations three or four times a week—drawn there, as he explained, by the “crowds of people in all directions, in all positions, without clothing, moving—like the great compositions of Michelangelo and Rubens. I failed to find anything like it in Europe.” The congested city beaches provided Marsh with the materials for a distinctly American kind of collective portraiture that emphasized the race and class of its protagonists. In Negroes on Rockaway Beach, Marsh details the minutiae of everyday life, observing the different ways that individuals display their bodies and interact with one another. The near orgiastic scenario of entangled figures shows people reclining, embracing, and playing in the sand. Notably, Marsh depicts a single woman, at the composition’s lower left corner; her body is turned away from the others and her eyes are trained on a society gossip rag, the Daily Mirror, thus ignoring the human drama unfolding around her.