Frank Brangwyn (1867 - 1956)

Study for Man the Creator, circa 1932

£35,000.00

SKU: 2971
Mural scheme for the Rockefeller Center, New York, Oil on canvas, 109 8/10 x 70 1/2 in. (279 x 179 cm)

Size:
Height – 279cm
Width – 179cm

1 in stock

DESCRIPTION

Provenance:
E Kenneth Center; William de Belleroche (No 84); Gordon Anderson
Presentation:
unframed

Literature: British Murals & Decorative Painting 1920-1960,

Sansom & Co, 2013, pp.218-231

 

Brangwyn’s celebrated murals for the Rockefeller Center adorn the facade of the Comcast building, situated at the heart of the center at 30 Rockefeller Plaza.

 

The murals decorate the main atrium around the entrance to the lifts.

 

In 1932, Brangwyn was commissioned by J. D. Rockefeller Jr. (1874-1960) to produce four large murals for the RCA building, the centrepiece of the Rockefeller Plaza in Manhattan, New York. These are still in situ in the entrance hall, decorating the area of the south corridor elevator shafts, each measuring 17 x 25ft. J. D. Rockefeller Jr. had originally approached Pablo Picasso (1881‚Äì1973) and Henri Matisse (1869‚Äì1964), but both artists turned the commission down. Brangwyn, Josep Maria Sert i Badia (1874‚Äì1945) and Diego Rivera (1886‚Äì1957) were subsequently appointed to carry out the scheme. The three artists were briefed to work on canvas, (of which no more than 75% was to be covered), to paint en grisaille and to include some lettering in their designs. The broad subject matter of the murals was ‘New Frontiers’, encompassing aspects of a modern society, including science, labor, education, travel, finance and spirituality. Brangwyn was assigned four themes expressing man’s search for eternal truth: Man Laboring; Man the Creator; Man the Master; Man’s Ultimate Destiny. 

 

In May 1933, the murals made headline news when a public dispute arose between Rockefeller and Rivera; Rivera had included a portrait of Lenin on one of his canvases, and it was subsequently destroyed. In September 1933, Brangwyn also faced controversy when objections were made to his inclusion of Christ in a scene representing the Sermon on the Mount. To solve the dispute, Brangwyn discreetly reversed his figure – as seen in the image below. The irony that Christ had turned his back on Rockefeller was not lost on some observers.

 

 

These two full-size studies are likely to have been made by Brangwyn in order to explore the formal and technical dimensions of his design. Finding his studio in Ditchling too small to accommodate the murals, Brangwyn was granted permission to use one of the rooms in the Brighton Pavillion to carry out his work. He never saw his paintings in situ.

Brangwyn’s Rockefeller murals are similar in spirit to many of the works produced for the Works Progress Administration (WPA) scheme. Brangwyn’s murals also bare comparison to the Soviet realist aesthetic of the period, in which workingmen and women were celebrated in patriotic images. Brangwyn later gave these studies to William de Belleroche, the son of his close friend Count Albert de Belleroche (1864-1944), the painter and lithographer.

 


The model for the kneeling nude was Joy Sinden, sister of the actor Donald Sinden;  both Donald and Joy lived in Ditchling and posed for Brangwyn.

 

Brangwyn’s Rockefeller murals bear comparison with those of the celebrated WPA scheme which during the 1930’s resulted in more than 100,000 paintings and murals in municipal buildings, schools, and hospitals in all of the 48 states. The government-funded Federal Art Project (FAP) of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) was part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal during the Great Depression, in which he sought to put as many unemployed Americans back to work as possible and to buoy morale of the citizens. Some of the 20th century’s greatest visual artists were employed by the FAP, including Thomas Hart Benton and Stuart Davis along with many nascent Abstract Expressionists. 

Thomas Hart Benton, “Instruments of Power from America Today” (1930–31), WPA Mural cycle consisting of ten panels, (courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art)

The following article discusses  Brangwyn’s murals in their wider international context:

 https://www.tate.org.uk/research/publications/tate-papers/27/muralism-and-anglo-american-exchange

We are grateful to Dr Libby Horner for assistance.  This study will appear as M1110 in her forthcoming catalogue raisonne.

 

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THE ARTIST

Frank Brangwyn
Frank
Brangwyn
1867 - 1956

Frank Brangwyn was born in Bruges, Belgium, the son of an English father and Welsh mother. The family returned to London in 1874, Brangwyn’s father gaining work as a designer of buildings, embroideries and furniture. Although Brangwyn appears to have had little formal education, whether academic or artistic, his earliest mentors were three of the most influential men in design at the turn of the century: Arthur Heygate Mackmurdo, William Morris and Siegfried Bing. Between 1884 and 1887 Brangwyn travelled to Kent, Cornwall and Devon, before venturing further with trips to Turkey in 1888, South Africa in 1891, Spain in 1892 and Morocco in 1893.

Brangwyn was an independent artist, an experimenter and innovator, capable of working on both large and small scale projects, ranging from murals, oil paintings, watercolours, etchings, woodcuts and lithographs to designs for architecture, interiors, stained glass, furniture, carpets, ceramics and jewellery, as well as book illustrations, bookplates and commercial posters. It is estimated that he produced over 12,000 works during his lifetime. Mural commissions included the Worshipful Company of Skinners, London (1902-09), St Aidan’s church, Leeds (1908-16), Manitoba Legislative Building, Winnipeg, Canada (1918-21), Christ’s Hospital, Horsham (1912-23), State Capitol, Jefferson City, USA (1915-25), the British Empire panels, Swansea (1925-32), and Rockefeller Center, New York (1930-34). Brangwyn married Lucy Ray in 1896 and took on the lease of Temple Lodge, Hammersmith, in 1900. In 1918 the artist purchased The Jointure, Ditchling, where he spent most of his time following his wife’s death in 1924. Elected RA in 1919, knighted in 1924, holder of countless artistic awards, Brangwyn was modest about his singular achievements, regarding art as an occupation and describing himself as a designer.

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The artist working on the Rockefeller Murals, at The Brighton Pavillion
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The funeral in Venice
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Sketch for Melon Stall, 1922
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Foundry, circa 1922
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Mockery of Christ (study for O281), 1912
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Two Old Beggars (D 1596) 1924
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Study of Men Carrying Oil Jars (D1590), circa 1923
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Santa Maria della salute, 1906
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Man Walking
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Man with Shell, Study for Selfridge
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Male Labourer Carrying Basket, Study for Venice Biennale 1905
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Preliminary Ideas 1, Study for Rockefeller Center
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Men carrying flagons (D5000).
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Drawing
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Design for the Committee Luncheon Room, Lloyd’s Register of Shipping, 1908-1914
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General Relief Fund for Women & Children of Spain, c. 1936
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Winchelsea, 1908
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Ex Libris, Tria Juncta in uno
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Work – Ten designs for the Committe Luncheon Room, Lloyd’s Register of Shipping, Fenhurch Street, London, 1908-1914
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Frontispiece to the 1927 Portefolio
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Study of a sleeping dog
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Study of a sleeping dog
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Study of a sleeping dog
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Studies of a sleeping dog
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Study of a sleeping dog
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Jock
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Study of a dog’s head and paws
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