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One Wall Street, Irving Trust Company

New York, NY

Lobby ceiling

The Pursuit of Wealth, 1931

Commissioned by: Voorhees, Gmelin & WalkerIconographer: Hildreth MeièreArtistic Collaborator: Kimon Nicolaides; Hartley Burr AlexanderMedium: silver leafExecuted by: Hildreth Meière; Kimon NicolaidesNonextant

In addition to providing color and scale for the Banking Room at One Wall Street, Meière was asked to design a ceiling for the lobby. Meière herself developed the iconography. The theme that she chose was The Pursuit of Wealth.

One Wall Street lobby ceiling with The Pursuit of Wealth in silver leaf

One Wall Street lobby ceiling with The Pursuit of Wealth in silver leaf

Meière explained the appropriateness of her subject:

Standing as this building does in the heart of the “Financial District,” and at the head of the street whose name throughout the world is the symbol of money-power, it seemed appropriate to express in the ceiling of its main entrance some allegory of the pursuit of wealth.1

Her iconography started at the Broadway entrance to the building:

...the Pursuit of Money symbolizes that evolution into Beauty which money can have. In the extreme south east corner of the ceiling is a human figure, which typifies the soul of Man, reaching up from the Materiality of Worldly Possessions to the beauty that money can purchase, reaching up to the three winged figures which represent the Need of Beauty which is in all men, who in turn, with upraised faces and features all can understand, sweep on to Beauty itself, symbolized by the flower forms in the northwest corner.2

Meière found the space itself a challenge:

The walls were of black marble and the ceiling was the reflecting surface for the light. The design, therefore, could not be heavy either in mass or in color, or the effect would be too dark. Many experiments with silver leaf were made, and the incidental veils of color were blown on with an air brush.3

As she had for her designs at the Nebraska State Capitol and Radio City Music Hall, Meière sent her studies for the lobby ceiling to her old mentor Hartley Burr Alexander for his comments.4

The Pursuit of Wealth, study in graphite on paper

The Pursuit of Wealth, study in graphite on paper

Alexander had serious reservations about using a design with motion for a ceiling:

You have given pattern and movement and (as I judge from your description) richness of tone and color to your ceiling. . . . At the same time I cannot see a ceiling in it. . . . I think ceilings ought to be either centrally simple and self-contained or quietly all-over. I don’t want to see it as a map of motion, nor even as the chart of an idea that must be followed from start to finish. . . . 5

Meière explained to Alexander that the architect had insisted upon movement in the design. Her challenge was to create a figurative design that would read well from different directions:

A ceiling and especially the ceiling of a corridor which must read equally well from either main direction is one of the very hardest design nuts to crack when there are figures to deal with. . . . My main concern. . . was to try to weave a pattern in which an important group was always rightside up to the observer.6

She further explained to Alexander the problem of combining abstraction with figures and how she solved it by turning to artist Kimon Nicolaides:

The “abstraction” treatment came when I realized that not only was that what the architect wanted, but that anything else would have far too much weight. The figures are more pattern than figures. I realized also that I knew nothing whatever about the style, so, having made the composition, I called in an artist named Kimon Nicolaides, who does know it down to the ground, and he really worked out the “abstraction.” He, I felt, contributed so much that it became really a collaborative job, and I am using his name equally with my own and giving him the same share of the money.7

In 1965, The Pursuit of Wealth was irreparably damaged and covered over when air conditioning ducts were put into the lobby ceiling during a renovation of the building. It is no longer extant.

1

Hildreth Meière, “The Symbolism of the Lobby Ceiling at Number One Wall Street,” n.d., private collection.

2

Meière, “Symbolism.”

3

Meière, “The Question of Decoration,” Architectural Forum 57 (July 1932): 7.

4

One of Meière’s to-scale studies in graphite on paper for the lobby ceiling is in the collection of HLW International, the successor firm to Voorhees, Gmelin & Walker.

5

Hartley Burr Alexander, letter to Meière, October 28, 1930, Ella Strong Denison Library, Scripps College, Claremont, California, Hartley Burr Alexander Papers.

6

Meière, letter to Alexander, November 18, 1930, HBA Papers.

7

Meière, letter to Alexander, November 18, 1930.

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