The Unmissable Mural Masterpieces Hidden Around New York City
Not all masterpieces are found inside museums. On walls throughout New York City—including in unexpected places—some of the most talented artists in history left us works of lasting beauty. These eye-catching murals have been painstakingly located and photographed for a gorgeous new book, Murals of New York City: The Best of New York's Public Paintings from Bemelmans to Parrish (Rizzoli) by Glenn Palmer-Smith and photographer Joshua McHugh.
The book gives lavish treatment to dozens of murals, providing multiple, highly detailed images as well as a history and interpretation of each one.
In this exclusive excerpt for Frommer's, get an up-close look at these underappreciated treasures through a few of the book's best pictures. We think you'll agree that these artworks should be tourist attractions in their own right.
Pictured above: As seen on the book's cover, Maxfield Parrish's Old King Cole (1906) presides over The St. Regis New York hotel's King Cole Bar, thought to be the birthplace of the Bloody Mary.
Described by book author Palmer-Smith as "a four-season Central Park fantasy," this work was painted by illustrator Ludwig Bemelmans, the creator of the Madeline series of children's books.
From Murals of New York: "In 1947, [Bemelmans] was approached by Robert Dowling, who owned the Hotel Carlyle at the time and wanted him to paint his whimsical designs on the walls of the hotel bar. Bemelmans traded his work for free rent in one of the luxury apartments in the hotel for a year and a half."
The Carlyle is at 35 E. 76th St. in Manhattan.
From Murals of New York: "A young John Barrymore holds the Yorick-like head of an old John Barrymore. Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, and Rudy Valee gather near George Gershwin as Irving Berlin watches in admiration. Duke Ellington plays the piano . . . Observing these virtuosi [is] the great jazz musician 'Bix' Beiderbecke."
Hotel Elysée is at 60 E 54th Street in Manhattan.
From the book: "In March of 1933, just fourteen years after the death of Teddy Roosevelt, the American Museum of Natural History asked for submissions from artists interested in painting a suite of murals to memorialize his life. The jury received twenty-five anonymous sketches and unanimously chose the one belonging to William Andrew Mackay. . . . Each of the three murals occupies an alcove 34 feet high and 62 feet wide, including the adjacent panels. Mackay was paid $60,000, which, in today's dollars, would be somewhere in the upscale neighborhood of $1 million."
The American Museum of Natural History is on Central Park West between 77th and 81st streets.
From the book: "When it opened on the second day of the twentieth century, the Appellate Division courthouse was not only the grandest courthouse in America, it also represented the zenith of American mural painting. It is remarkable, and almost inconceivable in today's world of celebrity artists, that the ten leading painters of the day, all chosen by [architect James Brown] Lord to paint the courthouse murals, agreed to form a committee, headed by John La Farge, to ensure that their diverse styles could be modulated into a harmonious whole and to resolve any conflicts."
The New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division is at 27 Madison Ave. on Madison Square.
From the book: "[Artist Keith Haring's] line silhouettes of figures and, in particular, 'Radiant Baby' [his symbol for life, happiness, and new energy] underscored his belief that art could heal. In 1986, he donated a mural, a joyous painting with colorful splashes behind dancing figures and images of families and pregnant women and his famous barking dog, to the Woodhull Medical Center in Brooklyn to acknowledge their dedication to pediatric AIDS research and treatment."
The Woodhull Medical Center is at 760 Broadway in Brooklyn.
In 1930, Edward Trumbull was awarded a commission to paint a 76-by-100-foot mural on the lobby ceiling of the new Chrysler Building.
From Murals of New York: "A brochure from the 1930s states that the mural, originally titled Energy, Result, Workmanship, and Transportation but later renamed Transport and Human Endeavor, represents 'brawny man power, symbolic of the vitality and the force typical of our age. The power of the individual worker who labors with his hands, [and] the muscled giant whose brain directs his boundless energy to the attainment of the triumphs of this mechanical era in that never-ending struggle to bend the elements to his will.'"
The Chrysler Building is located at 405 Lexington Ave. in Manhattan.
From the book: "Painted between 1940 and 1942, Flight was the last and largest mural produced under the auspices of the [Works Progress Administration]. The painting, measuring 237 feet long by 22 feet high, depicts the evolution of man's quest to conquer the skies, from legends to prehistory to transoceanic air travel."
Ten years later, the mural's depiction of toiling workers was deemed politically unsavory and authorities hid the mural by covering its top coat of varnish with a thick layer of gray paint. Not until 1980 was the masterpiece beneath rediscovered and restored.
"Today," Murals of New York continues, "in contrast to our perspective of democratized opportunity, Flight offers a glimpse into a time when air travel was considered a luxury reserved for the rich—and when the thought of ordinary people enjoying that freedom was dangerously subversive."
The Marine Air Terminal, which currently serves JetBlue flights, is the oldest terminal at LaGuardia Airport in Queens.
For many more incredible photos of New York City murals, as well as deeper analysis, consult the 228-page Murals of New York City, published by Rizzoli (RizzoliUSA.com).