Chatham Square 1931
American, 1898 – 1954
Chatham Square, 1931
etching on laid paper
11 x 8 inches
Syracuse University Art Galleries 1964.076
© The Art Students League of New York/ Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York.
During the Great Depression in New York City, the Bowery was a neighborhood where the poorest people of the city lived. Many were homeless and without work. In this image, Marsh depicts the dejection of the area’s residents. Chatham Square, at the edge of the Bowery, was noted for its saloons, “Bowery bums,” and the Second and Third Avenue elevated train lines. In this image, the architecture of the elevated rail beds frames the figures below. Light from a store window at center is cast onto the backs of several men, leaving them partially obscured. They appear to be sapped of strength, as they lean against the dominant, solid piers of the elevated rails. Marsh used this light to contrast the men’s low social status with upper class wealth, represented by the store front advertising furs. His dark, dense design compels the eye to carefully examine the scene to uncover its details. Having been at times both a heavy drinker and a drifter Marsh felt a personal resonance with the archetypal “Bowery bum”, an understanding that is reflected in the etching’s somber mood and underscores his interest in studying these figures.