A Village hotel, a suicide, and a haunting painting

Since opening in 1887, the Albert Hotel on University Place and 11th Street has been a magnet for creative souls.


Author Robert Louis Stevenson booked a room in this lovely Victorian Gothic building, receiving Augustus St. Gaudens as a guest.

albertpinkhamryderWalt Whitman and Mark Twain spent time at the Albert, as did Hart Crane and Thomas Wolfe in the 1920s. Jackson Pollack, Robert Lowell, and folk rock bands like the Mamas & the Papas all made the hotel their home base.

But one late 19th century painter who gained notoriety for his moody landscapes and eccentric habits was so taken aback by an experience he had in the hotel’s restaurant, it inspired one of his darkest, most haunting works.

The painter, Albert Pinkham Ryder (left), was a near-recluse. Totally devoted to his art, he often walked from his downtown flat to the Battery late at night to observe the effect of clouds passing over the moon.


“But a roof, a crust of bread and an easel,” was all he needed in life, Ryder reportedly wrote.

alberthotel1907mcny93-1-1-5311Ryder’s brother was the manager of the Albert, so he often took his meals there. One evening, he talked up a waiter about an upcoming horse race, the Brooklyn Handicap, and a favored thoroughbred named Hanover.

“The day before the race I dropped into my brother’s hotel and had a little chat with this waiter, and he told me that he had saved up $500 and that he had placed every penny of it on Hanover winning the race,” Ryder recalled years later.

“The next day the race was run, and as racegoers will probably remember, Hanover came in third. I was immediately reminded that my friend the waiter had lost all his money.”


“That dwelt on my mind, as for some reason it impressed me very much, so much that I went around to my brother’s hotel for breakfast the next morning and was shocked to find my waiter friend had shot himself the evening before.”

alberthotelfrom11thst“This fact formed a dark cloud over my mind that I could not throw off, and ‘The Race Track’ is the result.”

Subtitled “Death on a Pale Horse,” the painting was completed between 1896 and 1908.

It belongs to the Cleveland Museum of Art—a work of art whose connection to a Bohemian hotel in Greenwich Village and a horse race in Brooklyn is not obvious yet runs deep.

[Fourth image: MCNY; fifth image: The Sun headline, two weeks after Ryder died in 1917]

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3 Responses to “A Village hotel, a suicide, and a haunting painting”

  1. Audrey Burtrum-Stanley Says:

    Stepping aside of the ‘NY City hook’ to your presentation and addressing the artwork presented – when I first viewed the racehorse, it reminded me the painting by the Regionalist painter, Grant Wood titled: ‘THE MIDNIGHT RIDE OF PAUL REVERE.’

    The legs of both horse paintings seem to have been placed in amazingly similar positions.

    Interestingly, Wood had great difficulty in ‘designing’ the sense of the horse’s movement. He worried over this, made many sketches and studied running horses. THEN, one evening, while visiting friends, who had a new baby, Grant Wood took note of their toddler’s newly sawn ‘n painted, homemade, wooden rocking horse. You can guess what happened — and, the rest is a part of the Art World’s history.

  2. ⭐Eric Miller (@ericwmiller) Says:

    Strange I should come across this randomly. It came up during a discussion the other day. http://www.urbanartantiques.com/2017/miles-cleveland-goodwin-valley-house-gallery-2017/

  3. The mysterious mosaic at 88 University Place | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] marks the Hotel Albert, the spectacular Victorian Gothic “French Flats” opened in 1887 between Tenth and Eleventh Streets that was a haven for creative types before […]

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