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Edward Sorel. Famous New York Monkey Bar Murals

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Edward Sorel. Famous New York Monkey Bar Murals

PAINTINGS & OBJETS D'ART. New York, 2009. Original watercolor paintings reproduced as murals in Manhattan's famous Monkey Bar on E 54th Street.

Price: $85,000

Created in 2009 by Edward Sorel and reproduced as a single mural for the reopened and renovated Monkey Bar in New York City, these four original watercolors tell the story of America between the two world wars through the period’s most notable characters. Along with these tremendously entertaining watercolors, the complete Monkey Bar collection also includes several preliminary drawings containing sketches of celebrities beyond those in the final mural. These additional portraits include charming takes on bandleaders Benny Goodman and Paul Whiteman, as well as the newspaper magnate Joseph Pulitzer. Both the drawings and the watercolors exude a buoyant sophistication. This significant ensemble of Sorel’s work demonstrates the artist’s prodigious abilities in a masterwork of urbane elegance and unparalleled vitality.

The complete mural may be viewed online at The Monkey Bar Website. Sorel (b. 1929), a renowned graphic designer, cartoonist, and caricaturist, has illustrated the covers of magazines including Time, The Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, Forbes, Fortune, Esquire, and especially The New Yorker. He has also produced many works for Vanity Fair.

One of the precursors of these four watercolor pieces was Sorel’s 2007 mural for The Waverly Inn in Greenwich Village, which depicts an array of celebrities associated with that New York City neighborhood. In 2009, Graydon Carter, editor of Vanity Fair since 1992 and owner of The Waverly Inn, purchased The Monkey Bar, which (beginning in the 1930s and continuing for several decades) served as a swank saloon and eatery for artists, dancers, musicians, actors, writers, media moguls, and a varied collection of other noted figures. In partnership with several others, Carter returned the venue to its formerly glamorous condition after a few years of neglect and decay. Within the four superb and stylish watercolors that have subsequently been reproduced as the Monkey Bar mural, Edward Sorel has produced insightfully comic portraits of 60 individuals from a wide expanse of early-twentieth-century cultural life in the United States. These marvelous works of human perception and creation, together with their engaging preliminary sketches, reveal a uniquely gifted artist at the height of his powers.

In the starlit first panel, titled Boxing, this impossibly virtuosic illustrator has drawn the following figures with wit and grace (from left to right):

• Tennessee Williams, playwright who died in the Hotel Elysée, where the Monkey Bar was located

• Isadora Duncan, pioneer of modern dance

• Alexander Woolcott, New Yorker critic and Vanity Fair editor

• Joe Louis, champion heavyweight boxer

• Richard Rodgers, prolific Broadway and film songwriter

• Lorenz Hart, lyricist and Rodgers’s collaborator in the creation of Broadway musicals

• Eddie Arcaro, the only jockey in horseracing ever to have won the Triple Crown twice

The exuberant companion panel to Boxing, entitled Piano Bar, features these beguiling portraits (from left to right):

• Langston Hughes, poet and leader of the Harlem Renaissance

• Peter Arno, New Yorker cartoonist and illustrator

• Kate Smith, singer of Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America”v

• Fats Waller, jazz pianist and singer

• Ella Fitzgerald, big band and bebop singer

• one of the Ziegfeld chorus girls from the classic Broadway show Ziegfeld Follies

• Clifford Odets, playwright and socialist

• Florenz Ziegfeld, Broadway theater producer

In the visionary Panel A of The Monkey Bar: New York Celebrities 1920s/1930s, Sorel has portrayed these emblematic figures of New York in the Jazz Age (from left to right):

• Henry Luce, magazine publisher responsible for the creation of Fortune, Time, Life, and Sports Illustrated

• Clare Boothe Luce, Vanity Fair editor, journalist, playwright, and Congresswoman

• Adolph Ochs, publisher of the New York Times

• Harold Ross, founder of The New Yorker

• Edna Woolman Chase, editor-in-chief of Vogue

• Condé Nast, owner of Vogue and founder of Vanity Fair

• Billy Rose, Broadway lyricist and producer

• Zelda Fitzgerald, icon of 1920s zaniness and wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald

• F. Scott Fitzgerald, novelist and Hollywood screenwriter

• Cole Porter, composer of the Broadway musicals Anything Goes and Kiss Me Kate

• Robert Benchley, critic and columnist for Vanity Fair and The New Yorker

• Elsa Maxwell, gossip columnist and hostess

• Dorothy Parker, writer for The New Yorker

• George S. Kaufman, playwright and theater director

• Moss Hart, playwright and memoirist

• Katharine Cornell, stage actress

• Eugene O’Neill, American playwright

• Edna Ferber, journalist, playwright, and novelist

• John Barrymore, actor of stage and screen

• Louis Armstrong, trumpeter and singer

• Billie Holiday, singer of American standards

• George Gershwin, composer of Rhapsody in Blue and Porgy and Bess

• Rudy Vallée, bandleader and actor

• Irving Berlin, composer of American standards

• Duke Ellington, composer and pianist

• Bismark “Bix” Beiderbecke, jazz instrumentalist and composer

Between Panel A and the equally glittering Panel B that follows it, Sorel has placed his lighthearted version of a famous face, amid a vase of flowers:

• Fiorello H. La Guardia (known as “the Little Flower”), Congressman and mayor of New York City during the Great Depression and World War II

Panel B of The Monkey Bar: New York Celebrities 1920s/1930s, the resplendent final panel of Edward Sorel’s mural, pays homage to these further historic figures through the artist’s remarkably expressive touch (from left to right):

• Vladimir Horowitz, classical pianist

• Arturo Toscanini, symphony conductor and head of the NBC Symphony Orchestra

• George Herman “Babe” Ruth, legendary baseball slugger for the New York Yankees

• David Sarnoff, chairman of RCA and founder of NBC

• William S. Paley, president and chairman of CBS for over five decades

• Fred Astaire, dancer, choreographer, and actor

• Alfred A. Knopf, American publisher

• Blanche Knopf, American publisher

• Paul Robeson, athlete, actor, singer, and civil rights activist

• Ernest Hemingway, journalist, novelist, short-story writer, and memoirist

• Sherman Billingsley, proprietor of the Stork Club in New York City

• Walter Winchell, journalist and gossip columnist

• Tallulah Bankhead, actress and denizen of the Hotel Elysée

• Cary Grant, Hollywood film actor

• Mae West, Vaudeville and film actress

Image Sizes of Preliminary Drawings:

Drawing 1: 12 ½ inches x 13 ½ inches

Drawing 2: 11 7/16 inches x 21 9/16 inches

Drawing 3: 12 1/8 inches x 27 3/16 inches

Drawing 4: La Guardia Drawing: 7 ¼ inches x 5 ½ inches

These four watercolors by Edward Sorel, along with his preliminary drawings, constitute the complete Monkey Bar collection. Through the force of the illustrator’s imagination, these original pieces capture a uniquely creative time and place in American history and culture. With its wit, sophistication, and historical breadth, this tour de force of Sorel’s artistry has no equal in modern American art and graphic design.

Provenance: Edward Sorel, to Irvin Ungar

SOREL, Edward. The Monkey Bar: New York Celebrities 1920s/1930s (Panel A and Panel B). Signed “Edward Sorel.” Watercolors and pen and ink frieze on two separate sheets. Size of each image: 51 x 12 ½ inches.

– AND –

SOREL, Edward. Boxing. Signed “Edward Sorel.” Watercolor with pen and ink. Image size: 14 5/8 inches x 15 7/8 inches. Piano Bar. Signed “Edward Sorel.” Watercolor with pen and ink. Image size: 12 3/4 inches x 17 ½ inches.



Detail showing Joe Louis, Isadora Duncan, Rodgers and Hart, and other 20th century luminaries.