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, DC.
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. (http://www.huntington.org/WebAssets/Templates/content.aspx?id=16266)
tempera on concrete