Alexander Brook was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1898. He studied at the Art Students League in New York. For several years in the 1920s, Brook was assistant director of the Whitney Studio Club, a forerunner of the Whitney Museum of Art. He was one of the few artists who continued to be popular and productive when the Depression forced others into Federal Art Projects or out of art entirely. Brook painted portraits, genre scenes, and numerous canvases depicting women.
Brook’s portrait of fellow painter Reginald Marsh is moody, yet it captures the sitter’s character. Brook described the portrait sitting, “I painted Reginald Marsh’s portrait at my studio on East 14th Street. Can’t remember the number but it was just off 5th Avenue and Reggie had his directly opposite. He had binoculars and spied on me as well as finding likely characters on the streets to incorporate into his pictures. This was in the late 1920s – perhaps 1929 – the overcoat was kept on more to protect him from the cold of my inadequately heated studio as well as to help me to make as interesting a pose and composition for the portrait.”
Brook’s references to the literal circumstances of the sitting, as well as its compositional factors, mirror the way in which many American realist painters combined a journalist’s observations with an artist’s prerogative to rearrange formal elements. Somber in tonality and wistful in mood, the portrait is typical of Brook’s finest work.