Our eye goes first to the woman at the center. She wears a long dress and a cape: not much help there in identifying her. She stands with her arms out from her sides and slightly forward. Not much help there, either. Her only distinctive feature is the hat with wings on it.
Usually this hat is worn by Hermes (Mercury), god of commerce in Greek and Roman mythology. The Hermes rising over Grand Central Terminal is wearing the same hat. A connection with commerce certainly makes sense for the NYSE, but I’ve never seen commerce represented as a woman. So her identity remains puzzling. We’ll look at the figures on either side to see if they help clarify it.
At the far left are 2 men studying papers. We can’t say what project they’re working on, but writing things down implies that they’re doing something that’s complicated and long-term. The fact that the papers are so large, and that there’s a stack of them, also implies that it’s a big project. So these men are long-term planners of some sort.
The third man from the left wears a leather apron. It’s the sort of garment that men wear in places where sparks are flying: a blacksmith’s shop, or a steel mill. This man has a tool in one hand, and rests the other on a complicated wheel or gear. We don’t have to know exactly what it does - it’s obvious that it’s heavy machinery.
The next man is pushing a lever. The box behind him is covered with rivets. Again, it’s not obvious exactly what the machine is, but it’s clear that it’s another substantial piece of industrial equipment.
So on the left side of the pediment, we have long-term planners and men using tools and heavy machinery. Combined, they represent industry, technology, manufacturing.
On either side of the woman at the center is a child. We’ll come back to the children in a minute.
To the right of the woman at the center is a man carrying a heavy bag of grain, which he’s pouring into a basket at the child’s feet. Then there’s a woman in a scarf and simple dress, leading a sheep. At the far right are 2 men studying a piece of rock: again, they seem to be thinking or planning.
So the figures on this side are agriculture, livestock, mining. They’re producing food or gathering the resources of the earth.
Looking on the left and right sides, we have long-term planners, manufacturing, heavy industry, technology, agriculture, mining. One of the participants on the tour (thank you, Sal!) pointed out that if you read the pediment right to left, there’s a historical progression: from earliest use of natural resources to agriculture, and then on to heavy industry and the planning of works of enormous complexity.
In any case, what we’re seeing here are people who produce. The NYSE funds producers, and there they are, right on the pediment.
Yes, but what about the children? What does the presence of healthy, happy children suggest? It suggests that production is an ongoing process, not a one-time, grab-what-you-can deal. Production requires and makes possible long-term planning and happiness.
The woman at the center remains a problem. We still can’t identify her from visual clues, even in the context of the other figures. To identify her, you need the back story to the pediment.
George B. Post, the architect of the new headquarters of the NYSE, conceived a pediment with the theme, “Integrity Protecting the Works of Man.” Post hired John Quincy Adams Ward to translate that idea into a sculpture. Ward had been a leading sculptor in the United States for decades, and he was very good. There are 11 of his sculptures outdoors in Manhattan, and they’re all worth a look. (For a list, see here.)
Ward excelled at portraits: on this tour, we’ve seen his Greeley and Washington. But he wasn’t experienced at allegorical groups, and he didn’t do them very well. Clarity is one of the key requirements for a work of art. Even in the context of the other figures on the pediment, it isn’t clear that the woman at the center is Integrity.
There is another problem with this allegorical group, and that’s the version we’re looking at. Ward created the models for all these figures. The models were carved in white marble by a famous family of stone carvers, the Piccirillis. The Piccirillis did excellent work, including the carving of the huge seated Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial, which they enlarged from Daniel Chester French’s model. (More here on Piccirilli.)
Unfortunately, we’re not looking at the Piccirilli marbles. The marble sculptures that were hoisted onto the pediment in 1904 weighed 90 tons. Within a few decades, the pediment was cracking, and passersby were in danger of being crushed by the Integrity of the NYSE.
In 1936, the original sculptures were replaced with copies. The copies were copper sheets on a skeleton – the same technique used for the Statue of Liberty. They were painted white to mimic marble. The replacements weighed 10 tons, not 90. They saved the pediment and the passersby.
But changes are always necessary when “translating” a work of art from one medium to another. When Greek sculptures in bronze were copied in marble by the Romans, some details had to be changed. In this case, beaten copper doesn’t allow the same level of detail as carved marble. So some details were surely lost. That said, I don’t think the identity of the woman at the center would have been obvious, even in the original.
What’s the theme of this sculpture? According to the title, it’s the importance of Integrity for protecting producers. From what we can actually see, though, the theme is simply the importance of producers. They’re easily identifiable, and they’re the focus of the façade.
One more point: imagine the reclining figures on the left and right gone. The emphasis would be on physical effort, muscle power, the working classes. With this figures, the emphasis is on the process from thought to action. Production - businessmen - need both mind and muscle, thought and action.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is the spirit behind 19th-century capitalism.
In purely esthetic terms, this is not a great work of art. It’s not even one of Ward’s 10 best works of art. But in emotional terms, I love it, and I’m very glad it’s presiding over Wall Street.
We’ll honor the NYSE’s attempt to show the the virtues of productiveness and integrity with an excerpt from the “money speech” in Atlas Shrugged. This ought to be engraved on a bronze plaque on Wall Street, but for now, this is the best we can do.
So you think that money is the root of all evil? … Have you ever asked what is the root of money? Money is a tool of exchange, which can't exist unless there are goods produced and men able to produce them. Money is the material shape of the principle that men who wish to deal with one another must deal by trade and give value for value. Money is not the tool of the moochers, who claim your product by tears, or of the looters, who take it from you by force. Money is made possible only by the men who produce. Is this what you consider evil? …
Wealth is the product of man's capacity to think. Then is money made by the man who invents a motor at the expense of those who did not invent it? Is money made by the intelligent at the expense of the fools? By the able at the expense of the incompetent? By the ambitious at the expense of the lazy? Money is made - before it can be looted or mooched - made by the effort of every honest man, each to the extent of his ability. -- Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged
Meyer Berger's 7/23/1954 New York Times column, "About New York," recounted a builder's story that the figures on the NYSE's pediment had been secretly replaced in 1936, and lampblack applied so the new figures would pass for the sooty originals. The Ward sculptures, Berger reported, had been smashed with sledgehammers on the pediment, behind screened scaffolding, and their fragments removed in covered slings. "To this day a bare handful of New Yorkers – Stock Exchange officials and employees, mostly, and the men who worked the switch – were the only ones who knew the switch had taken place."
This would be shocking if true. What's more shocking is that Berger, a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist, didn't bother to check this anecdote against the Times's own files. The present New York Stock Exchange building, designed by George B. Post, opened for business on April 22, 1903. Its pedimental sculptures were unveiled in 1904, and by 1910 were showing signs of deterioration. In 1936 the original sculptures were replaced with painted, lead-covered copper copies. The Times reported 6/26/1936 that "Hundreds of passers-by halted in Broad Street at the noon hour yesterday to witness the hoisting of the torso of "Integrity" into her central position." By December the Times reported that the work had been completed.
Makes you wonder about the accuracy of Berger's other writings, doesn't it? Maybe even about other writings in the Times?