NEW YORK, NEW YORK! – Special Interest Day

* Scroll down for reading and location list *

‘The fun of being a New York painter is that landmarks are torn down so rapidly that your canvases become historical records almost before the paint on them is dry’ John Sloan 1909

A ‘time-travel‘ tour with Mary Alexander in which we unashamedly cherry pick the art and design highlights of New York. Whether you know and love New York or maybe have never visited, join us and have fun discovering more about the personalities of the artists, designers, patrons and social climbers who shaped this extraordinary and ever-changing city.

Mary Alexander will create the sense of ‘being there’ and capture the vibrancy, energy and ever-changing nature of the city – today or travelling in the Vanderbilts’ horse drawn carriage up Fifth Avenue in the Gilded Age. Maps will pinpoint our locations throughout.

We will consider the influence of ‘new money’ on art patronage and track the relentless move of fashionable society uptown using the ‘voices’ of Henry James in Washington Square, Edith Wharton in Gramercy Park, or F Scott Fitzgerald exclaiming that ‘New York had all the iridescence of the beginning of the world’.  We will explore the people, ideas and fortunes that created the great art collections, buildings and visual environment of the city. Using a wide cross section of imagery, ranging from painting, design, architecture and interiors, fashion, photography and film, we will reflect on how the constantly changing city sees and re-imagines itself.


Session 1 . ‘Keeping up with the Jones’: Climbing the Social Grid in the Gilded Age

Session 2. The Big Apple Takes a Lead: Jazz Age Manhattan

Session 3. Exploring the city today: From Central Park to the High Line and Reflecting Pools


Mary Alexander has thirty years’ experience as a lecturer, with a BA in History and History of Art and a MA with distinction in History of Art from University College London. Now a freelance lecturer to various arts, heritage and antiquarian societies, Mary has also worked in Pentagram design consultancy in London and New York, organising conferences and special events. She is author of various articles on design and visual awareness issues, and her background combines an unusual blend of academic and visual communications skills.


Artworks/Galleries Locations List & Select Bibliography

Metropolitan Museum of Art, Fifth Avenue @ E 81st Street

The Cloisters Museum and Gardens (part of Met but location uptown at 190th St, A subway or drive – see directions on Met website)

Frick Collection, Fifth Avenue, E70th Street

MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) W 53rd Street (between Fifth/Sixth Avenues)

Guggenheim Museum, Fifth Avenue, E 81st Street

Extra gem on ‘Museum Mile’ to check out!  The Neue Gallery, Fifth Avenue E86th Street (housed in old Vanderbilt mansion) German and Vienna Secession, Klimt’s Adele Bloch portrait

Rockefeller Center, Fifth Avenue (whole block between W48th-51st Streets with Radio City Music Hall at rear of block on Sixth Avenue)

Morgan Library & Museum (financier J P Morgan’s collection) 225 Madison Avenue at 36th Street

Clubs/Hotels: Algonquin on W44th Street (between Fifth/Sixth Avenues)

’21’ Club W52nd Street (between Fifth/Sixth Avenues)

Plaza Hotel, on Grand Central Plaza Fifth Avenue/W 58th Street

Waldorf Astoria Hotel, Park Avenue, E49th/50th Streets

Chrylser Building on E42nd Street (between 3rd/Lexington Avenues)

Empire State Building on Fifth Avenue (between 33rd and 34th Streets – previous site of old 1890s Waldorf Astoria hotel)

Washington Square – area in Greenwich Village (Fifth Avenue begins here, between W4th and W8th Streets) W10th and 11th Street worth a meander!

Flatiron Building at intersection of Fifth Avenue/Broadway/23rd Street

Gramercy Park: only private square. Players Club/National Arts Club on Irving Place/Lexington Avenue between 20th-21st Street

City of New York Museum, Fifth Avenue at 103rd Street, exciting range of exhibitions. Excellent website.

Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum (previously Andrew Carnegie’s mansion on Fifth Avenue). Superb example of magnate mansion with original interiors and garden, providing backdrop to stunning permanent collection of historic design and changing contemporary design exhibits.

Suggestion for day outside city — take train from Grand Central station to Tarrytown (about 40 mins). Visit Rockefeller summer home KYKUIT – beautiful gardens, fountains and sculptures, with house containing Nelson Rockefeller’s outstanding  collection of modern art including Picasso tapestries. Great eateries and restaurants in Tarrytown nearby.

Views of cast iron buildings, shops and sidewalk details photographed in SoHo (south of Houston) between Broadway/W Broadway on the following cross streets – Prince/Spring/Broome/Greene/Mercer – interesting shops and private art galleries. Great for meandering on a weekend!

Walk The High Line (old elevated railway track) a landscaped walk starting in Chelsea/meatpacking district between Ninth and Tenth Avenues, starting at W11th Street/Gansevoort Street, can walk up to W30th St. Opened 2009 Great views out over city and old piers. Google website The High Line for map.

Reflecting Pools at site of Ground Zero marking footprint of each of Towers.

World Trade Center Oculus Transportation Hub 50 Church St by Santiago Calatrava in shape of white dove in flight.

For those with head for heights – The Summit Observation Deck at One Vanderbilt (between 42nd St/Vanderbilt Avenue, by Grand Central Station


Films Mentioned:

Weekend at the Waldorf 1945;  On the Town 1949;  Funny Face 1957; Breakfast at Tiffany’s 1961;  North by Northwest 1959; Annie Hall 1977;  The Age of Innocence 1993; When Harry Met Sally 1989; Crocodile Dundee


Select Bibliography

Edwin G Burrows & Mike Wallace, Gotham: A History of New York city to 1898, Oxford University Press, 1999 (excellent encyclopaedic overview)

James Roman, Chronicles of Old New York: Exploring Manhattan’s Landmark Neighborhoods,  Museyon Guides, 2010

Jerry E Patterson, Fifth Avenue The Best Address; Rizzoli, 1998

Eric Homberger, Mrs Astor’s New York: Money and Social Power in a Gilded Age, Yale University Press, 2004

Justin Kaplan, When the Astors owned New York: Blue Bloods and Grand

Hotels in a Gilded Age, Viking, 2006

Charles R Morris, The Tycoons: how Andrew Carnegie, John D Rockefeller, Jay Gould and J P Morgan invented the American Supereconomy, Times Books/Henry Holt & Co, New York, 2005

Calvin Tomkins, Merchants and Masterpieces, The Story of the Metropolitan Museum, Dutton & Co, NY, 1970

Robert A Slayton, Beauty in the City: The Ashcan School,  State Univ of NY Press, 2017

Seeing Central Park (official guidebook) Sara Cedar Miller, Abrams NY

Stephen Birmingham, ‘Our Crowd’ 1967, Macdonald

Henry James, The American Scene, 1907 (Penguin Classic)

Paris/New York: Design/Fashion/Culture 1925-1940, Museum of the City of New York, 2008

Paul Goldberger, The Skyscraper, Knopf, 1982

David Garrard Lowe, Art Deco New York, Watson-Guptill, NY, 2004

Daniel Ockrent, Great Fortune: the epic of Rockefeller Center, Penguin, 2003

Christine Roussel, The Art of the Rockefeller Center, Norton NY, 2006

Ethan Morden, The Guest List: how Manhattan defined American sophistication from the Algonquin Round Table to Truman Capote’s Ball, St Martin’s Press, NY, 2010

Thomas M Coffey, The Long Thirst: Prohibition in America 1920-1933; Hamish Hamilton, 1976

Jan Morris, Manhattan ’45, Faber & Faber, 1987 (beautifully written and evocative description of Manhattan post WWII)

Arthur Pulos, The American Design Adventure, 1940-75


Novels/Memoirs mentioned:

Henry James – Washington Square

Edith Wharton – The Age of Innocence (also her short New York stories)

Truman Capote – Breakfast at Tiffanys

F Scott Fitzgerald – The Great Gatsby, This Side of Paradise, short biographical stories – My Lost City; Echoes of the Jazz Age

Helen Hanff, Apple of my Eye, 1977

Henry Miller, Aller Retour New York (written 1935)

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