Long Thought Lost, a Pair of Art Deco Murals That Once Hung in the Empire State Building Will Resurface at TEFAF

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Ken Sims, director at Manhattan-based Bernard Goldberg Fine Arts, was gathering inspiration for the gallery’s TEFAF presentation via 1stDibs when he discovered the crown jewels they’ll debut this week—a formerly unattributed pair of giant, ambrosial murals by the late American immigrant artist Winold Reiss, both hailing from the Empire State Building’s infancy. Prior to Sims’s find, these sultry ovals of oil on board were thought lost to history.

Upon confirming his suspicions with Bernard Goldberg himself, “we took a risk and purchased the works without seeing them in person,” Sims told Artnet News. The Buffalo-based dealer, asking an unnamed price around five figures, shipped them downstate. said Renate Reiss, Winfold’s widowed daughter-in-law, identified and authenticated the unsigned Temptation and Animation from archival photos, sketches, and expertise.

Six similar, still-lost scenes complete the full series, created in 1938 to grace the subterranean Salle Abstraite dining room at the former Longchamps restaurant on the skyscraper’s ground level. All eight artworks hit the trash in the 1960s to make way for a Mississippi riverboat-themed restaurant, which became a Starbucks by 2008.

Winold Reiss, , (1938). Photo courtesy Bernard Goldberg Fine Arts, LLC

No one knows how Reiss’s vibrant behemoths were saved. Both hit the block at Sotheby’s some 30 years ago, simply titled “Large Oval Abstract Paintings.” They reappeared under equally ambiguous labels at a Showplace auction in 2020, and sold for less than $3,000 each.

Now, Reiss’s name recognition is on the rise. “There is definitely a surge of interest in Reiss after the exhibition at the New York Historical Society last year,” Sims said.

“They are absolutely New York treasures and we would love for them to be accessible to the public,” he continued of the works, slated to sell for seven figures a piece. “But there is no question they would be trophies for a private collection.” He hopes their TEFAF display helps locate the rest of the series, including Contemplation, Liberation, Anticipation, Fascination, Adoration, and Exultation.

Until then, the paying public can savor these recovered murals in full color for the first time, alongside a rare surviving set of serrated chairs from Reiss, at TEFAF from May 12 to 16.

 

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