Reginald Marsh was born in Paris on March 14, 1898. His father, Fred Dana Marsh, was a well-known muralist, and his mother, Alice Randall Marsh, was also an artist who painted miniature watercolors. Marsh returned with his family to the United States in 1900 and grew up in Nutley, New Jersey.
After graduating from Yale University in 1920, Marsh moved to New York, where he worked as an illustrator for the New York Evening Post and Herald, Vanity Fair and Harper's Bazaar. Beginning in 1922, he worked as staff artist at the New York Daily News doing a cartoon review of vaudeville and burlesque. During the 1920s, he designed theater curtains for the Greenwich Village Follies and other theater productions, and became one of the original cartoonists at The New Yorker after it was founded in 1925, actively working for the magazine until 1931 and regularly contributing drawings from time to time after that.
In 1923, Marsh married Betty Burroughs, who was the daughter of the curator of painting at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and herself a sculptor. They divorced in 1933, and he married his second wife, Felicia Meyer, a landscape painter, in 1934.
In the early 1920s, Marsh began to study painting and attended classes taught by John Sloan and Kenneth Hayes Miller, among others, at the Art Students League in New York. He made several trips to Europe, once in 1925-1926 and again in 1928, to study the old masters in the museums. In 1929, he began to paint in egg tempera. He also worked in watercolor, painting several large compositions in 1939-1940. In the 1940s, he studied the "Maroger medium" with Jacques Maroger and began to use this emulsion technique in his paintings. In addition to painting, he also worked in lithography, etching, and engraving.
Marsh had his first one-man show of oils and watercolors at the Whitney Studio Club in 1924 and another show of lithographs there in 1928. He had one-man shows of his watercolors at the Valentine Dudensing Galleries in 1927, the Weyhe Gallery in 1928, and the Marie Sterner Galleries in 1929. In 1930, he had his first show of paintings at the Rehn Galleries, where he regularly exhibited for the next two decades.
In 1935 and 1937 respectively, Marsh was commissioned by the Treasury Department Art Program to paint two murals in the Post Office Department Building in Washington, D.C. and a series of murals in the rotunda of the Customs House in New York. Beginning in 1935, Marsh taught drawing and painting at the Art Students League. In the summer of 1946, he was guest instructor at Mills College, Oakland, California, for six weeks. In 1949, he was appointed head of the Department of Paintings at Moore Institute of Art, Science, and Industry, Philadelphia and taught advanced painting there in 1953-1954.
Beginning in the mid-1930s, some of Marsh's art work began to be reproduced on greeting cards issued by the American Artists Group and Living American Art, Inc. He also did illustrations for editions of Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie (1938), John Dos Passos's USA (1945) and Adventures of a Young Man (1946), and Mark Twain's The Prince and the Pauper (1946), among others. He continued to do freelance illustrations for magazines, including Esquire, Fortune, and Life. Notably, he served as an artist correspondent for Life during the Second World War, and traveled to Brazil in 1943 to draw the army installations there.
Marsh was the recipient of various awards throughout his career, including the M. V. Kohnstamm Prize from the Art Institute of Chicago in 1931, the First W. A. Clark Prize and Corcoran Gold Medal from the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., in 1945, and the Gold Medal for Graphic Arts of the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1954.
Marsh died of a heart attack in Dorset, Vermont on July 3, 1954.
This biographical note draws heavily from information originally printed in the catalogue of the Reginald Marsh Retrospective Exhibition organized by the Whitney Museum in 1955.