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Reginald Marsh’s last painting discovered at Moravian College
Sole portrait by Ashcan School follower unknown even to art experts
(Bethlehem, Pa.)—No one, it seemed, knew that Reginald Marsh, a disciple of the American “Ashcan School” of gritty urban realism, had painted a portrait. Diane Radycki, assistant professor of art history and director of the Payne Gallery at Moravian College, hardly believed it herself.
But there it was, along with correspondence, student newspaper accounts, and a mention in the 1954 yearbook, to prove its provenance.
More than three years ago, Radycki took students in an art history class to the “Hall of Portraits,” a corridor in Comenius Hall where hang the portraits of past College presidents in their academic robes. She wanted the students to see how styles of portraiture had change through the ages, for Moravian, founded in 1742, has portraits that date back before the Civil War and stretch forward to the late 20th century.
“I wanted to make this lively and real, so I didn’t go to see the portraits beforehand to check them out,” said Radycki, who was at the time new to the faculty. It was one of the students who noticed that the painting of the Rev. Raymond S. Haupert, president of Moravian College and Moravian Theological Seminary from 1944 to 1969, was signed. She deciphered the signature and asked Radycki if she’d heard of Reginald Marsh. Radycki says she was astonished, for Marsh was not known as a portraitist.
But, in fact, it was the same Reginald Marsh (1898-1954), who came to artistic maturity just after the Ashcan School of social realism and New York City street life had produced its best-known works.
[The Ashcan School comprised Arthur B. Davies (1862-1928), Robert Henri (1865-1929), George Luks (1867-1933), William Glackens (1870-1938), John Sloan (1871-1951), Everett Shinn (1876-1953), Alfred Maurer (1868-1932), George Wesley Bellows (1882-1925), Edward Hopper (1882-1967), and Guy Pène du Bois (1884-1958).]
References in the Moravian College archives led Radycki to realize that the painting had its origin in an unlikely place: a New Jersey dog-racing track frequented by Marsh and Richard Jones, a professor of history at the College. When members of the Class of 1954 asked Jones to give them some ideas for the customary senior class gift, he told them the College as yet owned no portrait of its current president. And he just happened to know this artist in New York… The class collected $500 and made an appointment to visit Marsh at his studio.
Marsh was so touched by the small collection, which was nowhere near what he charged for a painting, that he agreed at least to come to Moravian College and meet its president. Despite the different in their backgrounds, Marsh and Haupert got on well together, and Marsh agreed to paint his portrait.
Haupert sat for the painting in Comenius Hall, where anyone in the College could stop by the makeshift “studio” and observe the portrait sittings. Marsh completed the work early in the summer of 1954. He died a month later, apparently before entering the portrait into his register of paintings. Marsh scholars seem not to have known of its existence.
The portrait is three-quarters life-size and depicts Haupert in academic robes but without mortarboard. Compared to the other portraits in the hall, its colors are rich and deep, and its subject’s inner energy is almost palpable.
It was displayed in Payne Gallery this fall in an exhibit of recent acquisitions, and then went on a tour of the state with an exhibit that originated with the James A. Michener Museum in Doylestown.
Moravian College is a private, coeducational, selective liberal arts college located in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Tracing its founding to 1742, it is recognized as America's sixth-oldest college. For more information, visit the web site at www.moravian.edu.