Sir Frank Brangwyn, R.A., R.S.W. (British, 1867-1956)
'Man's Ultimate Destiny,' Working Photomontage for the Rockefeller Center Mural
pen and ink over photograph, squared for transfer
3312 x 5078 in. (85.1 x 128.9 cm.)
The artist.
William de Belleroche (1912-1969), Brighton, acquired directly from the above.
Gordon Anderson (1929-2017), Brighton, his partner, by descent.
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner, circa 2000.
L. Horner, 'Frank Brangwyn: Rockefeller Center, New York, 1932-33,' British Murals & Decorative Painting 1920-1960, Bristol, 2013, pp. 219-227, fig. 158, illustrated.
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Lot Essay

During the Great Depression, John D. Rockefeller Jr. (known as ‘Junior’ to distinguish himself from his father) was the driving force behind the financing, development, and construction of Rockefeller Center in midtown Manhattan, where Christie’s New York now makes its home. Originally envisaged as a location for a new Metropolitan Opera complex in 1928, the Stock Market Crash of 1929 meant that the Opera could no longer afford to move uptown, and within a month the land leased for the project had been reimagined by Rockefeller working in conjunction with RCA, NBC, and RKO as a mass-media entertainment complex, which would provide a hub for television, music, radio, ‘talking pictures’, and plays. Construction on the project began in 1931 and the first buildings opened in 1933; the core of the complex was completed by 1939. Considered one of the greatest projects of the Depression era, Rockefeller Center was declared a New York City landmark in 1985 and a National Historic Landmark in 1987.
The then-RCA Building, now 30 Rockefeller Plaza, the complex’s centerpiece, opened in the spring of 1933. Preparing for the building’s opening, Junior originally approached Picasso and Matisse about decorations for the lobby, both of whom declined to participate in the project. Sir Frank Brangwyn, José Maria Sert and Diego Rivera were subsequently chosen to create the building’s murals, though Rivera’s mural was later replaced over a dispute about his inclusion of a figure of Lenin. All three artists were instructed to create their murals on canvas with the figures en grisaille and Brangwyn’s designs were to include some lettering as well. The unifying theme of the decorative program was to be 'New Frontiers', encompassing aspects of modern society, including science, labor, education, travel, communication, humanitarianism, finance and spirituality.
Brangwyn’s commission, which he received in 1932 with the final product installed in December of 1933, was for four large-scale murals, each measuring 17 by 25 feet, which still decorate the entrance hall and elevator bays along the south corridor of 30 Rockefeller Plaza. Brangwyn was assigned to interpret four themes around ‘man’s relationship to society and his fellow man’ and each of the murals bears the artist’s interpretations of these themes as their title: Man Laboring, Man the Creator, Man the Master, and Man’s Ultimate Destiny. Brangwyn did not produce the canvases in situ, but instead worked on them in a room at the Brighton Pavilion, as his studio in Ditchling, Sussex, about 50 miles south of London, was not large enough for him to paint them there. They were then transported to New York by steamer for installation. Sadly, Brangwyn never saw the finished murals in situ in New York. The present work and the previous lot are studies for the first and last of Brangwyn’s murals from the series – Man Laboring and Man’s Ultimate Destiny.
The present work is a photomontage study for Man’s Ultimate Destiny, which was Brangwyn’s interpretation on the theme of ‘man’s ethical and religious relationships.’ The text in this mural reads: ‘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' (fig. 1). Though Brangwyn’s commission and subject matter were explicitly religious, his inclusion of the figure of Christ was ultimately controversial, which necessitated the use of this innovative preparatory work.
Man’s Ultimate Destiny was originally conceived as a modern-day Sermon on the Mount. The four murals in the series clearly illustrate man’s forward progress through time, and as the fourth in the series, Man’s Ultimate Destiny features figures in contemporary 1930s dress, including a soldier, a number of identifiable residents of Ditchling, where the artist had a studio, and a figure of the artist himself. In the final cartoon for this work, Christ was seated atop the hill, preaching to the assembled crowds below (fig. 2). However, the Rockefellers felt it was unethical (and perhaps unwise as a business practice) to display religious preference in a commercial setting. This concern was further exacerbated by the dispute with Rivera of the inclusion of the figure of Lenin in his mural – having expressly banned Lenin, it was also felt that the figure of Christ should be disallowed. They suggested removing the figure entirely and replacing it with ‘a great light.’
As a Catholic, Brangwyn was not comfortable removing the figure of Christ from his composition entirely. However he compromised, turning the figure around so that Jesus was not necessarily as immediately recognizable as a figure of Christ. Brangwyn left the halo which had previously surrounded Christ’s head so that he appeared to be leading the assembled figures into the light of truth, and further explained the change by saying that in his new position Christ was ‘looking out over the world’ – while the figures in the foreground were part of the world, the greater part was off in the distance. While some observers commented that Christ had turned his back on New York and the Rockefellers, ultimately this change to the composition was enough that the mural was accepted when it arrived in New York.
Having already completed a cartoon for this complex work but needing to make the necessary changes to this important figure as well, Brangwyn created this photo montage from which to transfer the composition. He photographed the original cartoon so that the bulk of the composition did not have to be redrawn, and reworked the figure of Christ, combining the photograph of this new figure with the rest of the original composition, making a few minor edits atop the photos as well. This new composition was then squared for transfer. The local pharmacist in Ditchling, Alfred Sinden, probably developed the photograph for the artist, and both he and his son appear as recognizable figures in the composition.
We are grateful to Dr. Libby Horner for confirming the authenticity of this work, which will be included under no. M1110 in her Sir Frank Brangwyn catalogue raisonné, currently in preparation.

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