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Home | Articles | Destination: New York City Murals

by staff

Murals are among our oldest and most popular forms of artistic expression. The modern-era of mural production was ushered in by economic expansion at the turn of the twentieth century and later by New Deal arts programs. New York City is home to many beautifully executed and publically accessible murals from those eras. Whether creating atmosphere at a hotel bar or making a political statement in a post office, the city's murals add color and intrigue to everyday life. Below is a selection of six of our favorite must-see murals of New York City.

Grand Central Terminal
Main Concourse
42nd Street and Park Avenue
The Main Concourse of Grand Central Terminal with Paul César Helleu's (French, 1859–1927) painted ceiling. Photo credit: Frank English, Metro-North Railroad.

A twelve-year long restoration completed in 1998 returned the astrological painting on the ceiling of the Grand Central Terminal's Main Concourse to a brilliance not seen since the 1930s after decades of tar from cigarette smoke had obscured its color and clarity. Visitors stopping to snap photographs against the glimmering ceiling will notice that the sky and its constellations are not shown in any known scientific configuration. It is believed that Paul César Helleu (French, 1859–1927), who painted the original ceiling in 1912 (damage resulted in its later replacement), copied the stars from a medieval manuscript that illustrated the sky in reverse.

Equitable Tower
787 7th Avenue

Thomas Hart Benton, 'City Activities with Dance Hall' from the America Today mural, 1930–1931. Courtesy: AXA Equitable, New York.

American painter and muralist Thomas Hart Benton (1889–1975) was a key figure in the Regionalist art movement, characterized by its rejection of modern trends like abstraction and its embrace of realism. America Today (1930–1931) was originally created for a boardroom at the New School for Social Research in Greenwich Village, New York. In 1984, the ten-panel mural was purchased by AXA Equitable and completely restored. It was installed at its present location in the atrium of the Equitable Tower in 1985. The intricate and bold mural depicts a panoramic view of American life, from urban dance halls to Midwestern farms.

King Cole Bar, St. Regis Hotel, 2 East 55th Street

Originally commissioned for the Knickerbocker Hotel in 1906, Maxfield Parish's (1870–1966) three-paneled oil mural was transferred to its present home at the St. Regis bar during the 1930s. The mural's appearance at the turn of the century helped establish Parish as the period's most sought-after American illustrator. The mural depicts the fictitious king ('a merry old soul') surrounded by his colorful court. In 2007, each of the eight-foot-high by ten-foot-wide panels was removed for cleaning and restoration for the first time in more than fifty years. Returned to the bar shortly thereafter, the public now comes in droves to pay homage to the king and enjoy a drink at his feet.

Howard Chandler Christy's (1895–1920) murals at Café des Artistes. Courtesy of Café des Artistes.

Café des Artistes
1 West 67th Street

American illustrator and painter of celebrity portraits Howard Chandler Christy (1895–1920) was one of the earliest residents of the Hotel des Artistes. He was commissioned to paint six murals of wood nymphs in the Café des Artistes, located on the ground floor of the Hotel des Artistes, the first group of which was completed in 1934. Other Christy paintings on display include The Parrot Girl, The Swing Girl, and The Fountain of Youth. The charming and colorful murals create an atmosphere of romance and fantasy at the popular French restaurant.

Ludwig Bemelmans' (1898–1962) Central Park mural at Bemelmans Bar. Courtesy of The Carlyle, A Rosewood Hotel.

Bemelmans Bar
The Carlyle, A Rosewood Hotel
35 East 76th Street

The elegant Carlyle is home to Bemelmans Bar and its fanciful Central Park mural. Executed in the 1930s by author and illustrator Ludwig Bemelmans (1898–1962), the mural is the artist's only surviving commission on public display. Bemelmans is best-known as the creator of the Madeline series of children's books, and the mural incorporates a cameo portrait of Miss Clavel and the 'twelve little girls in two straight lines.' In exchange for his work, Bemelmans and his family accepted eighteen months of accommodations at The Carlyle.
Bronx Central Post Office
558 Grand Concourse

The Lithuanian-born Ben Shahn (1898–1969) got his start as a muralist working as an assistant to Diego Rivera (1886–1957) on the infamous Man at the Crossroads mural for the Rockefeller Center in 1933. The Bronx Central Post Office mural was the first commission from the Treasury Department Section of Painting and Sculpture ('the Section') established under the New Deal in 1934. Inspired by Walt Whitman's (1819–1892) poem 'I Hear America Singing,' Resources of America (1938–1939) is executed in the social-realist style, depicting workers laboring in the fields. 'I buy my stamps after work at the Bronx Central Post Office,' says New York City art dealer Franklin Riehlman. 'The suite of frescoes is one reason I don't mind waiting in line. They are wonderful examples of Shan’s work.'

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