Last February, I got a phone call from Mr. Arnold Jaffe, who told me that he found two studies of a George Marshall mural by muralist Umberto Romano in a box lot at an art auction, and he wondered if I knew anything about them.
None of us at the George C. Marshall Foundation had ever heard of these studies. So Cathy DeSilvey, curator at the Foundation, and I began doing some detective work.
Cathy researched Umberto Romano.
Umberto Romano with self-portrait
She found that Umberto Romano was born near Naples, Italy, and immigrated to the United States as a young child. He began painting when he was 9 and held his first one-man show in New York City at age 22.
While head of the Worcester Art Museum School in the 1930s, he was commissioned to design and paint murals for the Works Progress Administration. One of the most famous is in the Springfield, MA, Post Office, now the Commonwealth Building, painted in 1937/38 as part of the Treasury Relief Art Project.
Springfield, MA, murals
I did some research on the mural studies. I found that the Cape Ann Museum in Gloucester, MA, had a significant Romano collection, as Romano established and ran the Romano School of Art in Cape Ann beginning in 1937. Staff there knew about the Springfield Post Office mural, but nothing about a proposed George C. Marshall mural.
And while Romano was a long-time member of a private club in New York City, and had art shows there, the executive director said that he did not paint any murals there.
Mr. Jaffe has loaned the studies to the George C. Marshall Foundation. They are gorgeous.
Of these Marshall mural studies, Romano wrote:
The objective in creating this mural in symbolic shapes and images is to glorify the life of a great American General G. C. Marshall, as the Architect of Victory.
In the upper study, the “Spirit of Liberation,” a winged knight holds a shield with a portrait of Gen. Marshall. The symbol on the upper left represents D-Day; the bottom symbol, the end of World War II, and the right symbol represents the Marshall Plan.
The lower study shows Gen. Marshall with Prime Minister Churchill and Gen. Bernard Montgomery on Salisbury Plains, 1942, left. Gen. Marshall with Generals Bonesteel and Parker, shown inspecting troops in Iceland in 1942, center. The right panel shows the Marshall Plan at work in Berlin.
Art in the lower study corresponds to photos we have in the collection at the Foundation Library:
It really is a study, as you can see the perspective lines in pencil on this section:
We did some digging on the provenance of these works. Through its Edwin Austin Abbey Mural Fund, the National Academy of Design announced a competition for a mural “to honor General Marshall for his patriotic and distinguished contribution to the United States’ efforts in the Second World War.” Out of six entries, the artist chosen was Henrik Martin Mayer. The mural is in our lower auditorium and simply named “The Marshall Plan Mural.”
We asked the NAD if they had records of the 5 other artists entered in the contest, since the Romano studies perfectly fit the objective of the mural competition. Unfortunately, Marisa Bourgoin, head of reference services at Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art (which holds NAD’s records) was not able to locate information about the contest or the mural entries.
Cathy and I hope if you live in the area, you’ll stop in and see these beautiful works of art — the museum is open Monday through Friday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Thank you to Mr. Arnold Jaffe for discovering these; bringing them to our attention; and then loaning them to the George C. Marshall Foundation.
Umberto Romano photo from romano.com
Springfield mural photo courtesy of Jimmy Emerson
Other photos from the George C. Marshall Foundation Collection