Provenance: E Kenneth Center; William de Belleroche (No 84);
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.
This study, like the one for Man the Creator would appear to be the same scale as the completed mural and was probably a preparatory exercise in colouring and shading techniques.
Picasso, and Matisse were originally offered this 1932 commission for the Rockefeller Centre murals, before Brangwyn, the Spanish artist José Maria Sert and the Mexican, Diego Rivera were subsequently appointed to carry out the scheme. Critics complained that American artists should have been chosen for the prestigious work. Further controversy followed in May 1933 Rivera was prevented from ﬁnishing his mural when it was discovered that he had included a portrait of Lenin, and sympathizers of the artist clashed with police outside the building. The authorities also objected to the bright colours of the panel (Sert and Brangwyn had both agreed to paint monochrome works) and the mural was taken down and replaced by a new mural by Sert.
In September 1933, Brangwyn himself faced controversy. Ofﬁcials from the Rockefeller Center objected to the ﬁgure of Christ being included in the fourth panel, representing the Sermon on the Mount. Raymond M Hood, one of the architects of the Center, explained that, ‘some people here felt that it would not be ﬁtting to put the ﬁgure of Christ in a business building.They thought that might be too strong a representation of an individual religion’.
It was suggested that Brangwyn represented Jesus by a light shining from heaven. However the artist merely reversed his ﬁgure, so that Christ facing the populace became the back of a nameless cloaked man.
Brangwyn's paintings remain in situ: four large murals placed on the South corridor elevator banks of the RCA building each measuring 17x25ft and divided as follows: Man labouring painfully with his own hands; living precariously and adventurously, with courage, fortitude and the indomitable will to survive; Man the creator and master of the tool. Strengthening the foundations and multiplying the comforts of his abiding place; Man the master and servant of the machine, harnessing to his will the forces of the material world, mechanizing labour, and adding thereto the promise of leisure; Man’s ultimate destiny depends not on whether he can learn new lessons or make new discoveries and conquests, but on his acceptance of the lesson taught him close upon two thousand years ago.
Not more than 70–75% of the canvas was to be painted and lettering was to be included.
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.
See all works by Frank Brangwyn