Frank Brangwyn: Study for Man the Creator, circa 1932

Frank Brangwyn: Study for Man the Creator, circa 1932



Frank Brangwyn:
Study for Man the Creator, circa 1932

Unframed (ref: 2971)
Mural scheme for the Rockefeller Center, New York,
Oil on canvas,
108 x 72 in. (274.3 x 182.9 cm.)

See all works by Frank Brangwyn oil allegory big pictures life drawing murals Murals catalogue Being Frank

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

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 Master would appear to be the same scale as the completed mural and was probably a preparatory exercise in colouring and shading techniques. In the final works the cross-hatching
is slightly more detailed. 

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.

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.

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

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