Reginald Marsh

Twenty Cent Movie

Not on view



Carbon pencil, ink, and oil on composition board

Overall: 30 × 40in. (76.2 × 101.6 cm)

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© Estate of Reginald Marsh/Art Students League, New York/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Both theatrical and cinematic in its conception, the subject of Reginald Marsh’s Twenty Cent Movie was the Lyric Theatre in New York City. The movie marquee images and advertising signs in the background are based on contemporary films, actors, and actresses, with the theater’s double bill of movies joining We Live Again—an adaptation of a tragic novel by Leo Tolstoy—with an upbeat musical comedy called Moonlight and Pretzels (upper left). Here, Marsh’s meticulous replication of the signage suggests a wry commentary on the figures he depicts. The foreground scene resembles a stage set, with “real-life” stars, bit-players, and extras poised for action. The women in the painting wear cheap imitations of the latest Hollywood styles, while the man on the far right adopts the self-assured posture and flamboyant suit worn by the beloved gangsters of 1930s cinema. In an era when the movie star became the nation’s dominant icon, Marsh’s characters reflect the longings and aspirations projected from the cinematic screen. The advertising copy for upcoming attractions—“Human Emotions Stripped Bare” and “Joys of the Flesh”—suggests the possibility of intimate exchange, but Marsh’s characters are too occupied with posing to interact with their environment or each other.


  • America Is Hard to See

    Reginald Marsh, Twenty Cent Movie, 1936

    Reginald Marsh, Twenty Cent Movie, 1936


    Narrator: Adam Weinberg is Alice Pratt Brown Director of the Whitney Museum.

    Adam Weinberg: In October of 1929, the stock market crashed, and with it went the optimism of the 1920s.  

    Eddie Cantor: Nowadays, when a man walks into a hotel, and requests a room on the 19th floor, the clerk asks him, ‘for sleeping or jumping?’

    Adam Weinberg: Movie theaters—like the one in this painting by Reginald Marsh—offered a temporary escape from the hardships of everyday life. In the 1930s, more than half of all Americans went to the movies every week.  

    This is the Lyric Theater. At the theater’s entrance, colorful posters appeal to popular fantasies—“Stripped Bare,” “Joys of the Flesh.” Glamorous Hollywood film stars hover overhead. On the sidewalk, the artist has captured a representative cast of characters, who are themselves straight out of the movies—the glamorous blonde, the Don Juan with a rakish hat, a gangster-type smoking a cigar, and a pair of working girls. 

    American artists like Marsh took a new interest in the small dramas of city life. 

Reginald Marsh
188 works

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