At its annual meeting, the support group helped purchase important large-scale works by Reginald Marsh and George Luks.
Works go on public view tomorrow.
Reginald Marsh (1898–1954), The Locomotive, 1935. Tempera on concrete, 58 x 53 ½ in. (left); George Luks (1867–1933), The Breaker Boys, ca. 1925. Oil on canvas, 50 x 60 in. (right), The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.
May 7, 2013
MARINO, Calif.—The Art Collectors’ Council of The Huntington Library,
Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens made possible the purchase of two
major paintings for the institution’s American art collections at its
annual meeting on April 27. The group, made up of 43 donors from across
the region, first voted to acquire The Locomotive
(tempera on concrete 58 x 53 ½ in.), made in 1935 by Reginald Marsh
(1898–1954) in preparation for a government-commissioned post office
mural in Washington, D.C. In a dramatic show of support for the
collections, 11 members of the Art Collectors’ Council then contributed
additional funds in order to purchase The Breaker Boys (oil on canvas, 50 x 60 in.), painted about 1925 by George Luks (1867–1933). The total funds spent were nearly $1 million.
simply couldn’t be more thrilled about the Art Collectors’ Council’s
show of support this year,” said Kevin Salatino, Hannah and Russel Kully
Director of the Art Collections. “These are two great and riveting
works that are perfectly suited to our collecting strategy. The council
made a powerful statement this year that reinforces The Huntington’s
commitment to American art.”
The new works will go on view
in the Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art tomorrow (May 8)
for three months, until early August. They will then reappear as
signature elements in a new installation planned for June 2014, when The
Huntington’s American art galleries expand with 5,400 square feet of
new gallery space previously used for storage.
felt an exciting momentum this year, I think,” said Nancy Berman, chair
of the all-volunteer council. “This could be because we are inspired by
the gallery expansion, which will be glorious for art lovers; but it
also could be because we sense The Huntington is poised to become a
premiere place to experience American art in the country."
both of the new paintings were made around the same time, just ten
years apart, and are of similar scale, they couldn’t be more different,
explained Jessica Todd Smith, Virginia Steele Scott Chief Curator of
American Art. “These two works will have a powerful impact in the
galleries,” she said. “In one way, they are both about industrial
America, but their messages—communicated through different media, paint
handling, color palette, and composition—are like night and day. The
Luks painting is expressionistic and painterly, and its subject depicts
one of the most appalling forms of child labor in America at that time.
Marsh, on the other hand, foregrounds the powerful locomotive,
representing its mechanism with meticulous accuracy. The few people that
Marsh included in the scene are dwarfed by the train and relegated to
the margins of the composition. These paintings represent very different
aesthetic directions and points of view, and they will contribute
profoundly to our representation of the range of American painting in
the 1920s and 1930s.”
Reginald Marsh (1898–1954), The Locomotive, 1935. Tempera on concrete, 58 x 53 ½ in.
Raised in New Jersey and New York, Reginald Marsh first pursued a career as an illustrator, working for the New York Daily News and The New Yorker,
and only later began taking painting classes at the Art Students
League. He turned more seriously toward painting when he joined the
Whitney Studio Club, where he had his first one-man show in 1924. Later
in the decade, he learned how to paint using tempera, a rapidly drying
medium that allowed him to work quickly and achieve the calligraphic
line that characterized his illustrations. With this discovery, he began
painting with a new sureness that led to his success in the 1930s.
Marsh made The Locomotive
as a study for a commission he received from the Treasury Department to
design and execute two murals for the Post Office Building in
Washington, D.C. Although the building’s architect suggested that Marsh
complete his paintings on canvases that would later be affixed to the
walls, Marsh sought permission to execute the murals in fresco, a
technique of applying pigment on freshly laid plaster largely associated
with Renaissance masters. In preparation for the project, Marsh studied
fresco with the Swedish muralist Olle Nordmark, who was eventually
hired to oversee the final murals in Washington. Marsh completed two
known frescoes while in Nordmark’s studio, Gathering the Mail (Palmer Museum of Art, Pennsylvania State University) and The Locomotive.
In a pencil sketch of The Locomotive,
Marsh divided the work into five sections or “joints,” each
corresponding to a different area of work, and indicated whether it
should be done in “rough plaster” or “smooth.” According to Smith,
“These variations in the texture of the painting’s surface enhance the
dynamic impact of the composition by creating a distinctive sense of
depth and palpable atmosphere.” A powerful representation of a subject
that preoccupied Reginald Marsh throughout his career, The Locomotive
exemplifies the artist’s skilled draftsmanship and passion for
depicting the urban landscape and working-class life of New York. While a
social realist, Marsh was also part of an artistic generation
fascinated by the aesthetics of machines and turned his close
observations of trains into prints and paintings.
At The Huntington, The Locomotive will complement Marsh’s painting Red Buttons
(1936), which represents his interest in depicting the people of New
York. It also serves as a link to the Library’s rich holdings in the
history of railroads. Most importantly, The Locomotive
builds on The Huntington’s growing collection of American art from the
1930s and helps contextualize the monumental Sargent Johnson relief
sculpture (1937) acquired by the Art Collectors’ Council in 2011.
George Luks (1867¬–1933), The Breaker Boys, ca. 1925. Oil on canvas, 50 x 60 in.
Luks, one of the central figures of the Ashcan school, is also
considered that group’s most colorful and flamboyant personality, traits
manifested in his boldly virtuosic style. A founding member of The
Eight (with Robert Henri, William Glackens, John Sloan, Everett Shinn,
Ernest Lawson, Arthur B. Davies, and Maurice Prendergast), Luks aspired
to unite the dazzling skill of Old Master painting with new and radical
subject matter—the unvarnished reality of life on the streets at its
messiest and most vibrant.
Luks was raised in Pottsville,
Penn., a coal mining town, where he developed compassion for working
class people, especially the hardscrabble families of coal miners. After
briefly attending the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and the
Düsseldorf Academy in Germany, he traveled extensively throughout
Europe, maintaining that his exposure to the Old Masters (especially
Frans Hals, Velázquez, and Goya) and such 19th-century artists as
Édouard Manet was his true education. Returning to Philadelphia, he
honed his visual skills as a newspaper illustrator and cartoonist before
turning to painting.
Luks received widespread critical recognition with his first acknowledged masterpiece, The Spielers
in 1905. Significantly, it was the rejection of a Luks painting by the
National Academy of Design in 1907 that prompted Henri to withdraw from
the academy and form The Eight. For the next two decades, Luks’
celebrated paintings of urchins, boxers, peddlers, and shop girls, the
downtrodden and the overlooked—all granted dignity and poignancy through
accomplished technique and subtle humanity—were among the most
critically acclaimed paintings in America.
The Breaker Boys
depicts a topic familiar to early 20th-century child labor reformers:
youngsters called “breaker boys,” who removed, by hand, impurities from
coal, a practice begun in the 1860s and ended only in the 1920s. Brutal
and dangerous, the work of the breaker boys stirred public outrage as
early as the 1880s, reaching a climax in the 1910s with the publication
of Lewis Hine’s shocking photographs of child labor in America.
Luks’ large and powerful Breaker Boys,
though focusing its attention squarely on three boys in the fore- and
middle-ground, emphasizes the callous dehumanizing effect of their work
by suppressing the boys’ facial features and presenting them only from
the side or the back. Rendered in a restrained palette of blue, black,
gray, violet, and white, the work still vibrates with color. While its
slashing brushwork and dark colors recall Goya and Manet, its violent
angles, zigzagging composition, and flattened planes reveal the
influence of early 20th-century abstraction. Both pictorial and
abstract, Breaker Boys looks both backward and forward in art
history. “It is the finest of Luks’ canvases from the 1920s and one of
the masterpieces of his career,” said Salatino. “It’s a testament to his
humanity and to his genius as one of the greatest painters of the
The Huntington has a growing collection of works by Ashcan artists, including a small, well regarded early canvas by Luks—Boxing Match (1910). “The addition of the strikingly different Breaker Boys
greatly enriches the story of one of the most vibrant eras of painting
in America,” Salatino said. “It will become one of the most dramatic
visual statements in The Huntington’s American collection.”
The Art Collectors’ Council
Huntington’s Art Collectors’ Council is a group of donors who support
the growth of the collections through active involvement in the
acquisition process. They meet every spring to select works for
acquisition presented by The Huntington’s curatorial staff. For
information about membership in the Art Collectors’ Council, the public
can call Elizabeth Clingerman at 626-405-2225.
CONTACTS: Thea M. Page, 626-405-2260, firstname.lastname@example.org
Lisa Blackburn, 626-405-2140, email@example.com
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[EDITOR’S NOTE: High-resolution digital images available on request for publicity use.]
About The Huntington
Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens is a
collections-based research and educational institution serving scholars
and the general public. More information about The Huntington can be
found online at huntington.org.
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