Art + Auctions

Lost Art Deco Treasures From the Empire State Building Rediscovered

Winold Reiss’s murals were thought to have been destroyed when the space was remodeled in the 1960s
Painting of nude woman with leopard.
Winold Reiss’s resurfaced oval paintings have been priced in the low seven figures.Photo: Courtesy Bernard Goldberg Fine Arts, LLC

Known as a respected destination for art and furniture gems, 1stDibs might have more in store for its shoppers than your typical luxury e-commerce finds—if you have a discerning eye. The director of Manhattan’s Bernard Goldberg Fine Arts gallery scored a piece of NYC history when he identified two paintings on 1stDibs simply labeled “Monumental Art Deco Paintings of Stylized Women” as the work of renowned German American artist Winold Reiss. The murals adorned the walls of the Empire State Building in the 1960s until a remodel that saw its base, initially a Longchamps restaurant, converted into another restaurant. The space now operates as a Starbucks. The New York Times reports that the artwork, verified by Reiss’s family, will go on display for the public May 12 in a TEFAF art fair booth at New York’s Park Avenue Armory.

Reiss’s murals, circa 1938, are entitled Animation and Temptation. Both depict women with long Botticelli waves situated in a botanical paradise complete with colorful fauna: a snake in Temptation, a leopard in the Animation, per Goldberg. Standing at nearly eight feet tall, the two oval-shaped murals are bursting with vibrant blues, purples, and oranges. It’s hard to understand how work so large and commanding could ever have been misplaced as the space was redesigned into a riverboat-themed restaurant. Gallery founder Bernard Goldberg wondered aloud to the Times, “Nobody had taste? Nobody knew what was beautiful?” The two paintings were part of an original set containing eight such Reiss works. 

The other painting in the set of two, thought to be titled Temptation.

Photo: Courtesy Bernard Goldberg Fine Arts, LLC

Nearly 30 years ago, the duo were up for auction at Sotheby’s with no attribution, listed as “Large Oval Abstract Paintings.” In 2020, they resurfaced at the Showplace auction house under the descriptor “Large Art Deco Manner,” and both sold for under $3,000 apiece. 

Acquired from a 1stDibs dealer in Buffalo, the Goldberg gallery scooped the pair up for a price in the mid-five figures; their current price has been set in the low seven-figure range. For all the 1stDibs shoppers, the six outstanding Reiss ovals are still out there somewhere. Goldberg is crossing his fingers that the TEFAF public display might aid in the effort to locate the rest of the set, titled, ContemplationLiberationAnticipationFascinationAdoration, and Exultation