Archive for the ‘central park’ Category

The melancholy feel of Central Park in autumn

October 7, 2019

At the turn of the 20th century, social realism was all the rage among New York’s painters, who created masterpieces inspired by the city’s tenements, saloons, and gritty waterfront.

Impressionist artist Paul Cornoyer was different. Cornoyer painted New York’s blurred edges, bathing buildings and trees and people and puddles of water in somber tones or reflective streaks of rain or snow.

At first glance “Central Park Autumn,” from 1910, seems placid and benign; we’re at the boat pond close to East 73rd Street, a favorite of parkgoers then and now.

But the autumn leaves and subdued bench sitters create a sense of melancholy stillness. Cornoyer “has painted for us the New York that he felt,” one critic wrote in 1909, a year before this painting was completed.

How Central Park got its Shakespeare Garden

September 9, 2019

It’s hidden in Central Park near West 81st Street: a four-acre oasis of winding hillside paths and wooden benches resplendent with colorful, fragrant plants and flowers.

But this lovely green space of quiet and peace near Belvedere Castle isn’t just any garden in the park.

It’s the Shakespeare Garden—filled with a dazzling display of the trees, plants, and flowers that William Shakespeare referenced in his poems of plays. It’s also designed to evoke the English countryside of the 1600s.

Like many of Central Park’s magnificent landscapes, the Shakespeare Garden never appeared in the original plans for the park laid out by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux in the 1850s.

How the garden made it into the park near West 81st Street has to do with the Shakespeare garden fad of the early 20th century in England and America, sparked by Shakespeare’s 300th birthday in 1916.

What eventually became the Shakespeare Garden started out as the “Garden of the Heart,” created in 1913 as a garden for kids to learn about nature by Dr. Edmond Bronk Southwick.

 Southwick (below right) was the park entomologist—and also an avid Shakespeare fan, according to Garden Collage.

He either took it upon himself or was nudged by city officials (sources vary) to turn this very popular children’s garden into a landscape of “beautiful plants and flowers mentioned in the works of the playwright, as well as those featured in Shakespeare’s own private garden in Stratford-upon-Avon,” states CentralPark.com.

(Above right, the garden in 1916, with a waterfall that’s no longer there.)

On April 23, 1916—as part of the city’s Shakespeare Tercentenary Week—Southwick’s children’s garden was formally renamed the Shakespeare Garden, the Sun reported.

In its early years, the city’s Shakespeare Society and Southwick himself maintained the array of plants, including columbine, primrose, wormwood, quince, lark’s heel, rue, eglantine, flax, and cowslip, according to CentralParkNYC.org.

But the Society broke up in 1929, and the Shakespeare Garden went into a long decline, eventually restored and saved by the Central Park Conservatory and volunteers.

The Shakespeare Garden has undergone some changes. Plaques containing quotes from the Bard’s works can now be found beside some of the plants.

Also, a mulberry tree that supposedly grew from a mulberry cutting from Shakespeare’s actual garden was felled by a 2006 storm and had to be removed.

Today it remains a magical, slightly secretive spot in the park with spectacular flowers that would likely get a nod of approval from the writer behind the English language’s most romantic poetry and plays—and anyone seeking serenity and beauty. (And a place to curl up with a book!)

Central Park’s garden is not the only Shakespeare Garden in the city. The Brooklyn Botanical Garden has one, too.

[Fifth and sixth images: New York Times, 1916]

Where is this rough rock wall in Central Park?

July 22, 2019

This is the story of an 1889 painting, a mysterious stone wall, and a religious institution that occupied part of today’s Central Park in the mid-19th century—before the park was even in the planning stages.

It starts with Impressionist painter William Merritt Chase. He was dubbed the “artistic interpreter” of Central Park and Prospect Park in an 1891 Harper’s Weekly article, owing to his many evocative landscapes of these and other city green spaces.

One Chase painting that stands out as darker and more mysterious than most of his park landscapes is this one (above) from 1889, “In the Park (a By-Path).”

A child under a watchful nanny wanders away from a park bench and follows a stone wall, “one of those sections of rough rock-work which give character to the many nooks and corners of the Park at the same time that they serve a useful end,” wrote Charles De Key in Harper’s Weekly.

Where was—or currently is—this “rough rock-work,” and what was its useful end?

According to various sources, this impressive stone wall is what remained of a convent and school called the Academy of Mount St. Vincent (above in 1861), the first institute of higher learning for women in New York.

Founded in 1847 by the Sisters of Charity, Mount St. Vincent had the misfortune of setting up shop East of Fifth Avenue at about today’s 105th Street, in what would become Central Park a decade later.

The school relocated in the 1850s to Riverdale, where it continues its educational mission today. The college buildings left behind in the park burned down in 1881.

That rough rock wall, apparently a retaining wall from one of the original buildings, still stands behind the Conservatory Garden not far from a stone that marks the former site of the college (above left).

I went looking for the wall in this hilly, rocky section of Central Park. The mosquitos and thick brush kept me from finding it.

Luckily some other intrepid New Yorkers did locate it, like Michael Minn, whose 2007 photograph of the retaining wall is above. It doesn’t look exactly like the wall in Chase’s painting—artistic license, or the effects of time?

The folks from Untapped Cities also have a photo of the wall from 2017.

[Second image: NYPL; fourth image: Copyright © Michael Minn]

The hidden sundial in a Central Park sculpture

June 3, 2019

Central Park has an astounding 9,000 or so benches arranged throughout the park.

But there’s one unique marble bench on the East Side of the park that has something no other bench can lay claim to.

It’s a sundial—and it’s hidden behind a tiny sculpture of a female figure on Waldo Hutchins Bench, just inside Inventor’s Gate at East 72nd Street.

The sculpture is the work of Paul Manship, who created the Prometheus sculpture at Rockefeller Center along with several whose whimsical bronze animals also found in Central Park.

Who was Waldo? He was a founder of the park in the 19th century and also sat on the Parks Department board. The bench was built in 1932, according to a 1997 New York Times piece and was paid for by Hutchins’ son.

The sundial isn’t the only celestial feature of this bench. (It’s also not the only sundial in Central Park; there’s one in the Shakespeare Garden closer to the West Side.)

“Three arcs inscribed in the semicircular area in front of the bench coincide with its shadow lines at 10 a.m., noon, and 2 p.m. at the vernal and autumnal equinoxes,” the Times states.

The bench also has some words of wisdom inscribed in it in Latin. ”Alteri Vivas Oportet si Vis Tibi Vivere” translates into ”One must live for another if he wishes to live for himself,” according to the Times.

The sundial itself also offers advice. ”Ne Diruatur Fuga Temporum,” or ”Let it not be destroyed by the passage of time.” Words to ponder on your next stroll through the park.

The smallest pedestrian bridge in Central Park

March 11, 2019

Central Park is a wonderland of beautiful bridges. At least 36 bridges and arches wind through the park, allowing pedestrians to discover all the landscapes Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux put into their 1850s Greensward plan.

On a recent visit, I think I may have come across the smallest bridge in the park. This lilliputian rustic wood span is part of a footpath through the Ramble, the wooded area surrounding the Lake.

If it has a name, I couldn’t find it. But it crosses Azalea Pond, according to the Central Park Conservatory. Though it’s “newly constructed,” it appears to be an homage to Central Park’s co-designers, who succeeded in recreating the serenity of nature in the industrial, bustling city.

Gilded Age Manhattan aglow in a rainy twilight

January 28, 2019

UPDATE: Turns out this painting is probably not Columbus Circle, as Artnet had it; it looks like opposite Madison Square. Thanks to eagle-eyed ENY readers for catching]

Columbus Circle in the 1890s must have dazzled the senses.

The towering granite monument that gave the Circle its name was unveiled in 1892. On one side was the entrance to the carriage lanes and horse paths of Central Park, and on the other could be heard the “uninterrupted whirr” of the Broadway cable cars heading downtown, as Stephen Crane described it.

Stylish electric street lights illuminated the Circle with globes of sunshine. The Theater District was now just blocks away to the south; the new apartment houses and townhouse blocks of what was still known as the West End were rising to the north.

And a mostly forgotten artist named William Louis Sonntag, Jr. captured the din and dazzle in this painting, giving us a view of twilight at Columbus Circle on a rainy, magical night.

The bronze dancing bears just inside Central Park

January 7, 2019

Just off Fifth Avenue at 79th Street in Central Park is a small playground. Step inside, and try to resist the charm of these three enormous bronze bears.

“Group of Bears” has been at the Pat Hoffman Friedman playground since 1990. Cast 30 years earlier, this whimsical sculpture is the work of Paul Manship.

If the bears look familiar, its because Manship is the sculptor behind some of Central Park’s most beloved bronze animal statues. Those are his dancing goats and frolicking boy on top of the Lehman Gates (above) at the entrance to the Children’s Zoo.

Manship also designed the Osborn Gates (below), which feature bronze vignettes inspired by Aesop’s fables. Dedicated in 1953, these gates stood at the entrance of a playground on the northern side the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

In the 1970s, the playground was torn down to expand the museum, and Manship’s animal-themed gates sat in storage—until they were brought back to the park and installed at the Ancient Playground in 2009.

Not all of Manship’s work has a child-friendly, fairy-tale kind of feel. He’s the sculptor whose Prometheus marks the skating rink at Rockefeller Center.

[Third photo: Centralparknyc.org; Fourth photo: Wikipedia]

A Gilded Age painter’s rainy, wintry New York

January 7, 2019

Cold rain and wet snow make it hard to get around New York on foot and take in its beauty. But damp weather like this was ideal for the Impressionist painters who lived and worked in the city at the turn of the last century.

With dark streets marked by puddles and tree branches heavy with water, the Gilded Age city glistened. The blurred faces of New Yorkers in black coats and hats came across as elusive and mysterious.

Carriages and street cars made their way through wet streets with passengers hidden and snug inside. Tall buildings higher than treetops and small walkup tenements alternate in the background.

Few painters revel in this rainy enchantment quite like Paul Cornoyer. Born in St. Louis in 1864, he came to New York at the tail end of the Gilded Age in 1899.

Cornoyer focused on Madison Square Park, at the time still a lovely spot in Manhattan but no longer than exclusive park of the city’s elite. The Flatiron building and Madison Square Park can be seen in the background of many of his paintings.

But he also visited other locations, like Columbus Circle, Central Park West (the site of the fourth painting above), Washington Square. His depictions of these and other streets and parks present us an atmospheric Gotham with soft, dreamlike contours.

A memorial to the Gilded Age’s favorite architect

May 28, 2018

The curved monument to American-born architect Richard Morris Hunt sits weathered and leaf-covered at Fifth Avenue and 70th Street.

Though not a household name these days, Hunt (below right, in a portrait by John Singer Sargent) was the man who sculpted the look of the Gilded Age.

A brilliant visionary with a reputation for humility and humor, Hunt was the starchitect for high society yet also the genius behind public institutions and what’s regarded as the city’s first apartment house.

The memorial site is a fitting location; within the surrounding blocks once stood some of the spectacular buildings he designed.

Across Fifth Avenue was the Lenox Library, a private precursor to the public library system developed after the turn of the century.

(When the Lenox Library building was torn down, Henry Clay Frick built his exquisite mansion-turned-museum in its place.)

At Fifth Avenue and 65th Street, Hunt designed the mansion for Mrs. Caroline Astor and her son.

Astor left her previous, less showy mansion at 33rd Street in the 1890s, after her nephew decided to demolish his neighboring mansion and build the Hotel Waldorf.

Hunt was commissioned to build a double mansion, where Mrs. Astor and her son’s family could live in the French Renaissance splendor fashionable among the city’s wealthiest at the time.

(The Astor mansion was demolished in the 1920s, replaced by Temple Emanu-El.)

Hunt also designed “Petit Chateau” for W.K. Vanderbilt and his social-climbing wife, Alva, in 1883 at Fifth Avenue and 52nd Street.

(Petit Chateau, the site of the 1883 costume ball that secured Alva Vanderbilt’s place in society, was also demolished in the 1920s.)

The facade of the Metropolitan Museum of Art was another Hunt creation.

After his death in 1895, plans for a memorial to the man who designed the Gilded Age were drawn. Daniel Chester French (he did the Lincoln Memorial in D.C.) created Hunt’s monument.

The understated site features a “central bust of the architect,” states centralparknyc.org. “A semicircular portico and curved bench support decorative columns and a cornice.”

“At each end stands a female figure, allegorical statues of Architecture, and Painting, and Sculpture,” explains the site.

It’s a perfectly Gilded Age-esque monument to the man who had much influence over the way the era looked—quite elaborate and fanciful compared to our pared-down, minimalist tastes today.

[Last photo: Wikipedia]

Old New York’s sleigh carnival began in January

December 31, 2017

Imagine a city where every January, when winter is at its most brutal and bone-chilling, New Yorkers parked their stages and omnibuses and excitedly hitched their horses to sleighs (like these in Central Park in the 1860s).

What was dubbed the “sleighing carnival” was an annual event in the 19th century metropolis (below, on Wall Street in 1834).

Once snow was on the ground and it was packed hard into the road, large sleighs were brought out for public transportation; “light” sleighs appeared too, kind of a personal carriage for joyriding, according to the Carriage Journal.

Joyriding meant going fast and thrilling passengers, as visitors to the city noted.

One of these visitors was Boston resident Sarah Kemble Knight, who wrote in her 1704 travel diary that New Yorkers’ winter fun involved “riding sleys about three or four miles out of town” in the Bowery.

While out with friends, “I believe we mett 50 or 60 sleys that day—they fly with great swiftness and some are so furious that they’d turn out of the path for none except a loaden cart,” Knight wrote.

By the 19th century, the appearance of sleighs became a carnival, one of speed, fun, and thrills.

In 1830, after a heavy snow fell in early January and temperatures plunged, “the New York carnival began, and the beautiful light-looking sleighs made their appearance,” wrote James Stuart in his 1833 UK travel memoir, Three Years in North America.

New York ladies apparently loved flying through the city on runners.

“The rapidity with which they are driven, at the rate of 10 or 12 miles an hour, is very delightful, and so exciting, that the most delicate females of New York think an evening drive, of 10 or 20 miles, even in the hardest frost, conducive to their amusement and health.”

The sleighing carnival last through the end of the century. (Above left, in Prospect Park.) Snow arrived in New York mid-January 1892, recalls the Carriage Journal, “and a regular sleighing carnival was the result.”

“The popular hours were from 3 to 5 p.m., during which thousands of sleighs thronged the Park and every imaginable vehicle that could possibly be used for pleasure riding was brought out.”

“Where all came from was a matter for surprise.”

[Top image: Currier & Ives, 1860s; second image: NYPL; third image: NYPL; fourth image: NYPL; fifth image: NYPL; sixth image: MCNY 45.271.1; seventh image: NYPL]