The Huntington | Art Collections | Red buttons

Reginald Marsh
Girls (Red Buttons), 1936
Egg tempera on board

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. Many of his best images are about seeing and being seen in New York City’s public spaces. In Girls (Red Buttons), one of the women looks at the viewer while the other glances to the right, outside the painting, her dominant red buttons supplying the painting’s title. 

George Luks
The Breaker Boys, ca. 1925
Oil on canvas

Breaker Boys is a bleak picture of unremitting toil. ”Breaker boys” were children who removed debris and sorted chunks of coal according to size and grade. They were poorly paid for their dangerous labour and suffered injuries or even death from falling down coal chutes. The painting’s large size (50 by 60 in. – 127 by 152.4 cm) speaks to the gravity of Luks’ message, which he reinforced with slashing diagonals and thickly applied paint that allude to the noise, chaos and mess of the boys’ working conditions. (In 1938, Federal regulation of child labour was achieved in the ”Fair Labor Standards Act”, which imposed minimum ages of employment and hours of work for children.)

Reginald Marsh
The Locomotive, 1935
Tempera on concrete plaster

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.

The Huntington

July 16th, 2017

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