Dissertation on Burlesque

Star Burlesque by Reginald Marsh. Click image to purchase the print on ebay.

'This dissertation undertakes the examination and interpretation of paintings and prints of the burlesque theater produced by Reginald Marsh (1898-1954) during the 1920s, 1930s, and early 1940s. During these years, social reformers sought to have burlesque banned from New York City, the heart of the burlesque as well as the legitimate theater world. At the same time, however, popular awareness of and interest in this type of entertainment increased. The ensuing public discourse indicates that the burlesque had become a site of cultural contention, onto which broader social concerns about gender, sexuality, and class had been projected. Responding to this conflict, artists such as Thomas Hart Benton, Adolf Dehn, Caroline Duriex, Mabel Dwight, Edward Hopper, Gaston Lachaise, Reginald Marsh, and Elizabeth Olds all turned to the burlesque as a subject for their art. Of these, Reginald Marsh produced by far the most images of this subject, and continued to do so after other artists had abandoned it. This dissertation takes a social-historical approach to the study of art. By indexing Marsh's images not only against the rest of his oeuvre and against other artists' images of the same subject, but also against the varying fortunes of burlesque, this study demonstrates that Marsh revealed more about the cultural concerns of the time than about the actual practices of burlesque performance and spectatorship. The multivalence and ambiguity that characterize these images is in keeping with the nature of the entertainment, and enabled Marsh to engage contemporary concerns about class and authenticity, gender and employment, and consumer culture and personal fulfillment, while satirizing the performers, their fans, and the culture at large.
'Subject Area
'BIOGRAPHY (0304); ART HISTORY (0377); THEATER (0465)'

The charms of exposed flesh: Reginald Marsh and the burlesque theater
by Michele Lynne Miller, University of Pennsylvania

I love Reginald Marsh's work.

Sometimes when I talk about burlesque as theater or as a powerful location for gender exploration, the person I'm talking to is very sceptical, as if I just made up all this stuff on the spot and no one else would ever support such an idea unless they were trying to prove that neo-burlesque has any interesting aspects besides the exposed body parts (which, I grant you, are pretty interesting). But the dissertation I linked above is from 1997 and I don't know the author at all, so it just goes to show we burlesque nerds of the millenium are not alone!


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