A 1930s painter’s coarse, crowded Coney Island

Social realist painter Reginald Marsh frequently depicted soldiers, sailors, floozies, burlesque dancers, moviegoers, bums, and other colorful characters that populated New York in the first half of the 20th century.


And he had a special fondness for Coney Island—the rougher edges of the boardwalk and beach, that is, filled with garish sideshows (“Pip and Flip,” from 1932, above), skimpy bathing suits, the promise of fun and adventure on a five-cent carnival ride.


[Above: “Wonderland Circus, Sideshow Coney Island,” 1930]

“Marsh explained that he was drawn to Coney Island ‘because of the sea, the open air, and the crowds—crowds of people in all directions, without clothing, moving—like the great compositions of Michelangelo and Rubens,'” according to this recent piece on Marsh on the Smithsonian Institution’s blog.


[Above: “Geroge C. Tilyou’s Steeplechase Park,” 1932]

It’s a part of Coney Island that hasn’t been totally erased with all the new development. You can still catch in glimpses.

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9 Responses to “A 1930s painter’s coarse, crowded Coney Island”

  1. jveazue Says:

    Reblogged this on JANINEVEAZUE.

  2. mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

    Hedonism at it’s finest.

  3. Joe R Says:

    The New York Historical Society will be having an exhibit of his 1930’s paintings, opening in about two weeks. Also, I believe that Marsh was a painting instructor to Roy Lichtenstein. Marsh’s proto-pop work must have been a real influence.

  4. Fredini Says:

    Reblogged this on The Great Fredini's Cabinet of Curiosities and commented:
    I just came across this post with images of Reginald Marsh’s Coney Island Paintings. Beautiful work and amazing detaisl of all the various personalities in the crowd….

  5. Gerry Parkly (@Gerryparkly) Says:

    Beauty in chaotic scenario I would like to say. This is great stuff. Awesome.

  6. Down on his luck at the Brooklyn docks in 1938 | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] Marsh painted the city’s extremes: gaudy, seedy Coney Island, sex at burlesque shows, Bowery revelry, and the might and strength symbolized by ships and […]

  7. The bums and barflies on a 10th Avenue corner | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] for his exaggerated, carnival-like paintings of crowds of showgirls, shoppers, and Coney Island beach-goers, Marsh was deeply taken by the forgotten men of 1930s New York—casualties of the Depression who […]

  8. An Impressionist paints New York’s sand and surf | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] 19th century, Potthast’s beach scenes don’t resemble not the tawdry Coney Island of Reginald Marsh or the foreboding Coney of Alfred Henry […]

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