NARRATOR: Reginald Marsh was a quintessential New York artist, feeding on stimulation, motion, change, and novelty. He didn’t leave a scrap of the city out of his paintings. Discarded on this subway floor there’s a tabloid newspaper, the sordid details of the latest scandal blazoned across its front page. The advertisements, one for buckwheat pancakes, the other for the elevated train, are rendered with great care. When Marsh sketched onsite he would write down the exact wording of the signs he encountered, even taking notes on the type of lettering and the colors used.
Back in the studio, Marsh used color to emphasize urban dynamism. In his paintings, the modulation of the colors changes almost inch-by-inch. He sometime used mixing agents in his paints, or diluted pigments so that their intensity ranged over the surface of the work. Even in a somewhat somber scene like this one, the result is a quietly pulsating energy.
Marsh made this painting in 1931, and it certainly shows some of the Great Depression’s trials. But the scene also reveals something else. Where else but in the New York City subway do people of all walks of life come together? By paying tribute to the city’s democratic spirit, Marsh celebrates the vitality of urban life and the resiliency of the city’s inhabitants.