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Photo credit: Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University

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Title: Grand Tier at the Met
Date: 1939
Medium: Watercolor and gouache
Dimensions: Image: 22 1/8 x 30 3/8 inches (56.2 x 77.2 cm)
Credit Line: Gift of Sylvia Brody Axelrad and Sidney Axelrad
Object Number: 76.066
Label Text: Born in Paris, the son of two expatriate painters, Marsh moved with his family back to the United States in 1900. After attending Yale University, where he worked as an illustrator for The Yale Record, he moved to New York, where he was on the staff of the New York Daily News from 1922 to 1925, while continuing his studies at the Art Students League under the tutelage of John Sloan, George Luks, and Kenneth Hayes Miller. His subject matter often reflects those of his teachers—day-to-day scenes of New York life, often in less-than-salubrious neighborhoods, where he embraced the excitement of crowds and reveled in observing the public’s pursuit of pleasure. He had a swift, unhesitating skill for capturing the moment with a realism reminiscent of Rowlandson and Hogarth.

During the mid-to-late 1930s, Reginald Marsh created a series of watercolors and prints on the subject of the Metropolitan Opera. Grand Tier at the Met is closest to the print of the same name, also from 1939, with the same exaggerated, overblown figures, though in the print, the woman at the far right is watching the performance while in this watercolor she looks vacantly out at the viewer, a pose she held in the first state of the print. Like Daumier before him, Marsh piercingly ridiculed the foibles of the upper classes, emphasizing the grotesqueness of their overfed bodies, their need to be seen as sophisticated and desirable, while they only succeed in appearing absurd.

Our watercolor was given to Sidney Axelrod by the artist shortly before he entered the United States Air Force in 1943. Interestingly, the donor’s wife noted in a letter that several of the figures at the right are caricatures of prominent men: William Randolph Hearst looks upward with bulging eyes; J. P. Morgan, with his bushy mustache, stares fixedly at the stage, oblivious to the activity around him; and the overlarge feminine figure with the incongruous sideburns has the countenance of Theodore Roosevelt.

The Johnson Museum has several drawings and prints by Marsh as well as watercolors by Rowlandson, over two hundred Daumier prints, and over one hundred Hogarth prints. Comparative works by Isabel Bishop, Peggy Bacon, John Sloan, Kenneth Hayes Miller, Martin Lewis, and George Luks, and many others from this era, makes this a rich research area for students and scholars. ("FIGURE/STUDY: Drawings from the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art," text by Nancy E. Green and presented at Carlton Hobbs, LLC January 25-February 2, 2019)

NOTE: This electronic record is compiled from historic documentation which may not reflect the Johnson Museum's complete or current knowledge of the object. Review and refinement of such records is ongoing.