Coney Island Beach #1, 1939


Reginald Marsh
American, b. France 1898-1954

Coney Island Beach #1, 1939
etching on wove paper
9 7/8 x 12 inches
Collection purchase
Syracuse University Art Collection, 1964.087
© The Art Students League of New York/ Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York.


Marsh’s etching depicts a crowded summertime Coney Island beach in 1930s New York City. The scene is a study of the human form, portraying a variety of intertwined figures in complex poses. The principal triangle of bodies is reminiscent of Michelangelo’s famous fresco The Last Judgment in its attention to human anatomy, emotion, and dramatic arrangement of figures. Marsh admired artists like Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Peter-Paul Rubens and was intrigued by their anatomical accuracy, emotion and classical beauty. He dedicated much of his life to studying their works, traveling to museums around Europe and experimenting with traditional techniques. Marsh felt that contemporary art in 1930s New York City lacked the passion and grandeur of the Renaissance and was drawn to public places of leisure, like the beaches at Coney Island. There, a diverse cast of characters and a multitude of bodies displayed on the beach gave him a host of live models. By combining cinquecento compositional design with real life people and places, Marsh created a distorted and extravagant account of his own reality rooted in the artistic tradition of the Renaissance.

Cristina Reid



The Best Show is the People Themselves: Reginald Marsh’s New York