Monday, February 20, 2017

Towards the End: Brangwyn at Radio City

Frank Brangwyn (1867-1956) was in his mid-60s when he painted murals for the lobby floor of 30 Rockefeller Plaza, the tallest building in the original Rockefeller Center complex in New York City. (In its early years, Rockefeller Center was popularly called Radio City, and the Radio City Music Hall is the name of its famous huge theatre where the Rockettes danced.) The Center's web site mentions him here.

Brangwyn is an artist that interests me greatly, especially for his work as a muralist. I posted about that aspect of his career here.

It seems that the Rockefellers were in the market for Big Name Artists to create murals for their huge, Depression-era project. Matisse and Picasso were approached, but weren't interested. Diego Rivera, the well-known Mexican muralist accepted, but he famously created a work of political propaganda that was inappropriate for its setting and destroyed.

So the Rockefellers dropped to their B-list, selecting Josep (José) Maria Sert and Brangwyn to paint huge, monochrome murals. Sert's murals are rather bombastic, and are better known than Brangwyn's because some are located in a large, open area. All of Brangwyn's are found on a side corridor.

Worse, Brangwyn's murals are not very good. He was an interesting colorist, but the Rockefellers apparently desired monochrome murals that would blend with the rich, late Art Deco interior architecture and decoration of the building. It is possible that Brangwyn was also losing his touch due to age.

When I was in New York City in September I made a point of tracking down his murals and photographing them. Unfortunately, lighting conditions and the comparatively cramped setting made it impossible to get decent photos. Still, I hope you will find them of interest.


If you enter 30 Rockefeller Plaza from the eastern, sunken plaza side, this huge Sert mural awaits you. Branwyn's are to be found around the corner by the pillar seen at the far left of the mural.

For some reason Brangwyn filled his Rockefeller Center murals with ugly people.

Another mural.

Detail of the mural in the previous image. Not being able to use color, Brangwyn had to resort to hatching. This, and his use of lightened paint to depict depth, resulted images that are weak by normal Brangwyn standards.

The murals would wrap around corners. Here is a side-aisle example that's distorted because I couldn't shoot the photo squarely-on.

This is a squared-up photomontage image found on the internet. Brangwyn used it for the mural shown in the next few images. This mural wrapped around a corner, and the soldier shown in the previous photo can be seen here at the left.

That is Christ at the top. He is facing away because the Rockefellers apparently decided His face should not be shown.

Detail of the above mural.

Another detail. Note that in this set of murals Brangwyn chose to have many of his subjects depicted with large, oddly-shaped noses.  I can speculate why, but won't because I have no way of reading his mind.

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