July 10, 2019
New “Gilded Lady” Mural on Fifth Avenue Pays Homage to NoMad History
Recently, the Kaufman Organization debuted a prominent 97 by 40-foot mural on the side of its building on 236 Fifth Avenue in NoMad—an art piece certain to be a conversation piece in the neighborhood for some time to come. Created by famed artist Tristan Eaton, the mural has already assumed the moniker “The Gilded Lady,” an artistic testament to the rich and textured history of the NoMad neighborhood from the Gilded Age onward.
The outline of the mural is that of a woman dressed in early 20th-century garb. The woman’s face—the most prominent feature of the art piece—is that of Evelyn Nesbit, the model and chorus girl whose face graced the covers of Cosmopolitan, Vanity Fair, Harper’s Bazaar and many other publications. Moving to what is now the NoMad neighborhood with her mother who was managing her career, Nesbit gained wide celebrity for her beauty and was one of the most in-demand models at the time, posing for photographers and artists as well as appearing in magazines and advertisements. Unfortunately, as an adult, her celebrity became overshadowed with crime and scandal when her jealous husband, Harry Kendall Thaw, enraged over her long and very open affair with the famed architect Stanford White, shot and killed the architect in public view on the roof of the Madison Square Garden (then located at 26th And Madison). In the subsequent “Trial of the Century,” Nesbit testified that the affair with White began when she was 14, when White had seduced her, gotten her drunk and taken her virginity while she was passed out. Thaw was eventually found “not guilty by reason of insanity.”
Other Historic References
Within the outline of The Gilded Lady are many other depictions of NoMad history, curated with the assistance of a New York historian. Creatively incorporated into the mural are the following visual references:
- Audrey Munson—dubbed “Miss Manhattan” and often considered America’s first supermodel, her face appears on many sculptures throughout the city.
- Images of tenderloin—harking back to the days when part of NoMad extended into the Tenderloin District, a neighborhood of crime and ill repute.
- Alexander “Clubber” Williams—the notorious police inspector with a penchant for violence who first gave the “Tenderloin District” its nickname.
- Copper police badge—worn by NYC police officers during the Gilded Age, these badges led to the common police nickname “copper,” eventually shortened to “cop.”
- Sculpture of Diana—commissioned as a weather vane by none other than Stanford White, this sculpture once stood atop the old Madison Square Garden.
It is fitting that Tristan Eaton was commissioned to paint this mural; as one of the most prominent street artists of our day, his work has appeared in major cities across the globe, from billboards to dumpsters to the permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). It is equally fitting that this NoMad tribute appears on the side of Kaufman’s 236 Fifth Avenue; as one of the largest commercial and residential property management companies in New York City, the Kaufman Organization has played a critical role in the revitalization of the NoMad neighborhood with the complete and handsome renovation of a number of buildings in the district, fitting them for 21st Century business.
When you’re in the neighborhood, take a minute and look up at the wall at 236 Fifth Avenue. The Gilded Lady is destined to join the pantheon of best-known NYC landmarks—a colorful tribute to the history of one of the city’s most colorful neighborhoods.