Description of The Art Contribution to Civilization of All Nations and Countries[1]

Jean Charlot

15S 3AW

NAME OF INSTITUTION: StraubenmŸller Textile High School, 301 W. 18th St., N.Y.C.

LOCATION: Main Foyer


TITLE: Art Contribution to Civilization of all Nations and Countries


MEDIUM: Oil on prepared plaster


GENERAL DESCRIPTION: The method employed in this mural to depict the art contribution of different countries is one which deals with characteristic and recurrent motifs appearing in the art of these different nations. 

The treatment is chronological, starting with three small panels on the south wall, which deal with the art of primitive man, Mayan art, and Oceanic art.  1. The Primitive Art panel shows an early artist making a cave painting of a buffalo.  2. The Mayan panel depicts a human sacrifice.  3. The Oceanic panel shows a native displaying a rug covered with designs characteristic of island art.  The three remaining panels on the south wall belong to Babylon, Assyria, and Egypt.  The Babylonian and Assyrian contribute a cruel, warlike art.  An oft repeated motif is man subjugating wild beasts.  The awe-inspiring architecture of these nations fills the background. 

In the Egyptian panel, we see the peculiar, flat, profile conception of form of this people.  EgyptÕs legacy to sculpture, architecture, pottery, and decoration is here stressed. 

The east wall––on which is depicted, from left to right, the art of China and Japan, Persia and India––is about forty-five feet long and is broken in three pieces by niches seven feet long, which recede two feet from the actual wall level. 

The wall proper deals with the pictorial contributions of these nations, while the niches show representative design motifs.  Chinese and Japanese Art are evidenced by a stylization of material in nature.  Rendering of figures, trees, mountains, rivers is decorative rather than realistic. 

Persia and India present an unusual conception of form and color.  The form has a simple majestic quality and is devoid of muscle.  This is designed to express manÕs ethereal being rather than his earthly one.  The color is bright, flat, and very decorative.  The architecture of these different countries dots the background.  

The west wall is about sixty feet long and is broken near the center by a niche about twelve feet long, which recedes two feet from the main level.  Starting from left to right is shown the Greek gift to culture.  In front of three architectural columns (Doric, Ionic, Corinthian) a group of children listen attentively to their teacher.  A centaur plays a flute for two Grecian dancers who entertain a departing charioteer, with Hermes as his guide.  Rome is depicted as appropriating Greek culture by the strength of her conquering warriors. 

The niche is decorated with figures of a madonna and two saints in simulated mosaic, a motif very characteristic of Byzantine Art.  To the right of the niche, the Middle Ages is depicted as a period of great religious feeling, with the church controlling culture.  The Renaissance is next interpreted by a decorative flame form, from which emerge significant figures of this period: Dante, Raphael, Michelangelo, Leonardo, and Fra Angelico.  The troubadours, leading a medieval caravan, are now introduced to express the development of literature by traveling raconteurs.  The panel is completed by a figure of a scientist probing the mysterious secrets of the universe. 

On the north wall are painted the glories of modern civilization.  The artistic symbol in modern construction and machinery is here stressed.  In the center of this wall is another niche, which is over a fireplace and is eight feet by five feet.  It deals with an allegory on education.  Figures personifying the academic arts mingle with others which treat directly the specialized activities in a textile high school. 

Manuscript: This text is conform to the subject-matter. 

Jean Charlot




[1] The Art Contribution to Civilization of All Nations and Countries, The StraubenmŸller Textile High School for the Humanities (later, Bayard Rustin High School for the Humanities), oil on prepared wall, 500 square feet, 1936 [date from contract; Jean CharlotÕs catalog states: ŌBegun August 1934,  Destroyed 1935.Ķ].  United States Works Progress Administration, Federal Sponsored Art Project, New York City (Project 65–1699).  Charlot was brought in to oversee the art students who had already begun working.  Charlot himself painted the central niche, to which he gave the title Head, Crowned with Laurels.  This was overpainted after the completion of the mural, and Charlot always listed the mural as destroyed.  The restoration by the Adopt–A–Mural Program was completed in 1995. Edited by John Charlot.

This text appears to describe the mural after it was done, but before the central niche was painted over.  I date it 1935.