Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Central Park: Ilonka Karasz New Yorker Cover Art

Original artwork for a 1928 springtime cover of The New Yorker by Ilonka Karasz has been available for a short while on eBay, offered by a seller in the U.K. The red and green pigments particularly have faded over 85 years, with mostly bold blues and yellows remaining in the artwork. It is still quite charming.

Ilonka Karasz, Original Artwork for The New Yorker, April 21, 1928
This is a highly stylized view of 1920's Central Park and the landmarks are a little tricky to identify. At first I thought the body of water on the right must be Central Park Lake. After all, rowboats are out on the lake, as they are today. The problem with this is that the body of water on the left must then be Conservatory Water, but this is also shown with rowboats. Today there are no rowboats in Conservatory Water, only model boats, and it's just about impossible to imagine rowboats going out on this tiny pool of water even in unfettered 1928.

The view is towards the southwest. The skyline of Central Park South is prominent, with the tallest building in the center being not today's familiar Essex House, but perhaps it is in the very location where Essex House is today. Construction on Essex House began in 1929, a year and a half after this cover was published.

From where exactly did Ilonka Karasz create this image? Did she work from a high-rise apartment building on Fifth Avenue? Did she work from a hill in Central Park? Did she just imagine it? I tried to recreate the view with Google Earth, but Central Park South is way too distant from Central Park Lake for this convincingly to be what Ms. Karasz has painted so exquisitely.

So what other two bodies of water could this be? Hinrich's 1875 Guide Map of Central Park reveals an interesting detail. The Pond in the southeast corner of the Park by the Plaza Hotel has a roadway or bridge dividing it into two parts. Today the part extending to the north and west, the body of water on the right in the cover illustration, is no longer there. That space is apparently now occupied by Wollman Rink, built in 1949.

This original artwork remains on eBay, where the seller quietly acknowledges "some fading." The optimistic asking price is 7,500 GBP for this faded rose, although there is also the more realistic Make Offer option.

Ilonka Karasz, Detail of Original Artwork for The New Yorker, April 21, 1928

Ilonka Karasz, The New Yorker, April 21, 1928


EBay Item Description

[End of eBay Item Description]

Hinrichs' 1875 Map of Central Park
On this 1875 map of Central Park, a possible line of sight for the 1928 New Yorker cover can be envisioned running between Conservatory Water (here Ornamental Water) and Central Park Lake (here the Lake) somewhat diagonally towards Central Park South on the left. Alternatively, the line of site can be imagined running between the two sections of the Pond at the lower left. Today Essex House is located on Central Park South between Sixth and Seventh Avenues.
This is a Google Earth view toward Central Park South looking between Conservatory Water and Central Park Lake. Central Park South is simply too far away for this to be the view Ms. Karasz painted.
I believe this Google Earth view is an approximation of  the vantage point shown on The New Yorker cover of April 21, 1928. Wollman Rink, built in 1949 on the former site of part of the Pond, is shown on the right with its summer season Victorian Gardens Amusement Park setup. The remainder of the original Pond appears to the left. Today the Pond is not teeming with rowboats, but there are ducks.
Ilonka Karasz, The New Yorker, April 21, 1928

Note:  Any original artwork by Ilonka Karasz should be of great interest to readers of this blog. Collectors who would like to share images of original art publicly are welcome to contact me.

If possible, I would like to add to this post a good photograph or two from the 1920's, give or take a couple of decades, showing a view of the southeastern portion of Central Park from a similar vantage point to this one. Ideally, the photo should include the two distinct parts of the Pond as it existed then and maybe even the skyline of Central Park South. Can somebody help?


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