The racy painting at a Madison Square bar

HoffmanhouseIn 1880s New York City, few hotels could match the elegance of Hoffman House, on Broadway between 24th and 25th Streets (at left).

And the hotel’s mahogany-walled grand bar and salon was famous in the city.

This was where New York’s titans of industry and political power brokers congregated. Boss Tweed was a regular, along with Grover Cleveland, William Randolph Hearst, and Ulysses S. Grant.

HoffmanhousesaloonPart of the reason they made the venue their regular haunt was its sense of privacy and luxury—plus the famous cocktails.

But it may also had to do with the nude paintings hanging along the walls, especially “Nymphs and Satyr,” a suggestive, eight-foot depiction of voluptuous young women by French artist Adolphe Bouguerneau.

This was racy stuff (if not exactly great art) to Victorian-era New Yorkers.

Usually the painting was covered by a thick velvet drape, but when it was open, patrons could discreetly view it by looking in the mirror on the opposite wall.

“Nymphs and Satyr” became a huge tourist attraction. It was such a sensation, even women were allowed to peek at it—but only one day a week, as ladies were normally barred from the bar.

Nymphsandsatyr“A quartet of ripe, naked maidens prancing around a preoccupied faun was for 24 years the despair of Victorian moralists and the delight of the clubmen who crowded Manhattan’s Hoffman House bar,” wrote Time in 1943.

By 1901, the painting was in storage, and after the Hoffman House closed in 1915, it remained there. In the 1940s, it was purchased at auction and given to the Clark Institute in Massachusetts

Until 2014, you can see for yourself the painting that titillated Gilded Age New York at the Met, where “Nymphs and Satyr” is currently on display.

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6 Responses to “The racy painting at a Madison Square bar”

  1. Joe R Says:

    Bougereau’s paintings often featured pulchritudinous posteriors. He must have been a real ass man.

  2. evi Says:

    I enjoy your posts so much.

  3. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Thank you EVI!

  4. A New York socialite dubbed “King of the Dudes” | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] another foppish dude, eclipsing the other guy during the Blizzard of 1888, when Wall entered the luxurious Hoffman House bar clad in thigh-high black patent leather […]

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