Best known for his drawings and paintings of crowds at Coney Island’s beach, artist Reginald Marsh also took photos with a 35mm Leica beginning in 1938. These images from the 1930’s and ’40s by Marsh are from a portfolio of 50 photographs of New York City published in 1977, which is currently offered for sale. The limited edition of 25, plus four artist proof sets, were printed from the original negatives with the provision that the negatives could not be used for any further publication. “The sets are very rare,” photography dealer Jeffrey Kraus of Antique Photographics, told ATZ. “I sold one a number of years ago and this is the second set I am offering.” The portfolio is available for $6500.
Coney Island was one of Reginald Marsh’s favorite places to sketch and photograph. On a hot summer’s day he’d take the subway from his studio high above Manhattan’s Union Square. “I like to go to Coney Island,” said Marsh, “because of the sea, the open air, and the crowds—crowds of people in all directions, in all positions, without clothing, moving—like the great compositions of Michelangelo and Rubens.”
Marsh was also drawn to the front of the shows, where people stood entranced by the talkers, and the whirl of rides like the carousel and the Virginia Reel, which also attracted onlookers. The Virginia Reel was invented by Henry Elmer Riehl, who named the ride after his daughter, Luna Virginia Riehl. Originally in Luna Park, it later operated at Bowery and West 12th Street as part of Kyrimes Park, where it shared a lot with such now vanished rides as the Gyro Globe, the Looper and the Whip.
Back in the day, there were more independently owned rides and attractions and all had their own distinctively-lettered, open-air ticket booths. The only ride in Coney Island that exists today with its original ticket booth is the Wonder Wheel. Like the Wheel, the ticket booth was built in 1920.
In an essay published with the portfolio, Norman Sasowsky, who worked as a curator/cataloguer for the Marsh estate, notes that the artist had a pass to Steeplechase Park given to him by park founder and operator George C Tilyou. Steeplechase’s carousel was a favorite subject. “Even though Marsh did not think of himself as a photographer–trying to make a photograph as an end in itself–he produced an exceptional array of photographic images. He selected unerringly the frame for the bit of reality he was about to record,” writes Sasowsky. “Marsh used his camera to photograph other events, such as family gatherings or friends, but his photographs of the places and people he used as themes for his paintings and prints are of special interest because of their intrinsic value and their relationship to his work.”
Related posts on ATZ…
October 2, 2011: Lucille Fornasieri Gold’s Coney Island Photos from the 1970s
July 13, 2011: Circus Portraits: Photography by Kevin C Downs
March 22, 2011: Rare & Vintage: Souvenir of Frank Bostock’s Coney Island
December 19, 2010: Rare & Vintage: Original Coney Island Motordrome Bike