Art Deco Chanin Building Panel D10 “Enlightenment”
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In the lobbies, eight bronze reliefs designed by Rene Paul Chambellan are inset in the walls above ornate bronze radiator grilles. The bronze ornamentation continues in the waves on the floor, mailboxes, and elevator doors extending the general Art Deco style from the outside in. Initially a dominant landmark in the midtown skyline, the building had an open air observatory on the 54th floor.
Having been surpassed in height by a number of buildings, most notably the Chrysler Building located across the street, the observatory has been long closed. The self-supporting tower atop the building is the original transmission site for WQXR-FM from 1941 to the 1960s. Irwin S. Chanin, was a self-made man – from poor immigrant to successful architect & developer. He wanted the building that bore his name to represent everything America and New York City meant for him, and could also be for all those that chose to seek it.
He had Rene Chambellan work with Jacques Delamarre to develop a set of eight relief sculptures to represent this. There were two lobbies in the building, each have four plaques, all of which were to represent a theme of “New York, the City of Opportunity.” four of the plaques represent the Mental Life and four of them represent the Physical Life of the individual.
Each plaque had a title:
Mental Life: “Enlightenment,” “Vision,” “Courage,” “Achievement” Physical Life: “Endurance,” “Activity,” “Effort,” “Success”
HISTORY of the sculptor whose artwork appears on the building;
Rene Paul Chambellan (September 15, 1893 – November 29, 1955) was an American sculptor, born in West Hoboken, New Jersey. Chambellan studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and the Academie Julian in Paris and with Solon Borglum in New York City. Chambellan specialized in architectural sculpture. He was also one of the foremost practitioners of what was then called the “French Modern Style” and has subsequently been called Art Deco. He also frequently designed in the Greco Deco style. Rene had many historic and significant buildings under his belt as a sculptor, including the NY Daily News Buildings, Buffalo City Hall, NY Life insurance building. Rene also designed medals, bronze doors, and the historic city seals and other artwork adorning the old Miller Highway (West Side Highway) that ran along Manhattan’s West side along the North (Hudson) River until a collapse in 1973 resulted in it’s eventual removal.
I always found these hyper-masculine figures in this era to be interesting, more so with the abstractness of this in Art Deco. Chambellain’s grandson Bob was working on a book several years ago, and a looks at the web site http://www.louisvilleartdeco.com will bring forth a treasure trove of studio photos and more information on Mr Chambellain and his many works; Rene Paul Chambellan – One of Art Deco’s Greatest Sculptors. by Jim Patterson, with Bob Perrone. Artists played a critical part in architecture during the late ’20s, through the ’30s, and up to WWII. Art Deco buildings wouldn’t have their edgy character without the ornamentation supplied by these artists. A number of talented artists contributed to making each building into its own art gallery of sorts. Metalworkers, muralists, sculptors, designers…. They all played a key part. This feature article is about one of my favorite artists – sculptor Rene Paul Chambellan (pronounced with the “sh” soft sound: “Sham -bell – an”).
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