American, b. France 1898-1954
chine colle lithograph on heavy wove paper
7 1/8 x 9 1/2 inches
Syracuse University Art Collection, 1964.078
© The Art Students League of New York/ Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York
In Courtship, Marsh depicts a 1930s brothel. In the center of the composition a man and woman sit at a booth with drinks in front of them. The seated woman is a prostitute, which is evident because of her nudity, heavy makeup, her sexually charged pose, and the close proximity of the man next to her. As was often the case for brothels at the time, the setting is a saloon that housed a bar in the front of the building and rooms with prostitutes in the back. Behind the two main characters sits a second prostitute and client. To the right stands a third prostitute, evident because of her partial nudity. Throughout his career Marsh was highly interested in forms of entertainment, such as sideshows and burlesque, that seemed at odds with his upper-class upbringing. He also had a stylistic fascination with voluptuous women. The main female figure here is an early version of a “Marsh Girl,” a sturdy, tall, buxom woman with long legs and exaggerated make up and coiffed hair, a character that the artist popularized by featuring her in many of his works. By titling this scene “Courtship,” Marsh offers a satirical look at how Americans were engaging in relationships in the 1930s. The work suggests that at the heart of modern courtship, women traded love for money.