View full screen - View 1 of Lot 137. MARGARET BOURKE-WHITE | 'GARGOYLE, CHRYSLER BUILDING, N. Y. C.'.


Auction Closed

April 5, 08:29 PM GMT


250,000 - 350,000 USD

Lot Details





oversized, warm-toned, with title and annotation 'Mid-winter 1929-30' and 'Her Studio on 61st Floor Where Gargoyles Situated' in pencil on the reverse, framed, circa1930

19 by 13⅝ in. (48.3 by 34.6 cm.)

In 1930, Margaret Bourke-White was commissioned by the Chrysler Corporation to photograph their new, 77-story, 1,046-foot skyscraper, while it was still under construction. In her autobiography, Portrait of Myself, Bourke-White says of her first glimpse of the Chrysler Building gargoyles, ‘On the sixty-first floor, the workmen started building some curious structures which overhung 42nd Street and Lexington Avenue below. When I learned these were to be gargoyles à la Notre Dame, but made of stainless steel as more suitable for the twentieth century, I decided that here would be my new studio. There was no place in the world that I would accept as a substitute. I was ready to close my studio in Cleveland in order to be nearer Fortune, but it was the gargoyles which gave me the final spurt to New York’ (p. 78).

When the building’s landlord expressed doubt about renting such prime real estate to a woman, in what was then, briefly, the tallest building in the world, her employer Fortune magazine intervened on her behalf. Later that year, Bourke-White moved into her new Chrysler Building studio, and she remained there until early 1933. It was from this space on the southeast side of the Chrysler Building that she photographed one of the two imposing gargoyles accessible to her. She grew so fond of the colossal art deco beasts that she named them Min and Bill, and they kept company with Bourke-White’s two pet alligators who resided outside on one of the studio’s balconies. 

The adventurous Bourke-White often delighted in climbing out onto the gargoyles themselves, 800 feet above the street, to photograph Manhattan (fig. 1). Designed by Chesley Bonestell and inspired by the 1929 Chrysler Plymouth hood ornament, these monumental gargoyles were among the many automotive-themed ornaments to adorn the new building, including hubcaps, mudguards, winged radiator caps, and stylized cars.

The panoramic view afforded from atop the Chrysler Building has continued to inspire artists over the ensuing decades. In 1991, Annie Leibovitz followed in Bourke-White’s footsteps to photograph dancer David Parsons draped across the length of a gleaming gargoyle. Bruce McCall’s May 2000 cover of The New Yorker payed witty homage to Bourke-White, depicting the photographer lifted midair by a gargoyle come-to-life.

At the time of this writing, it is believed that only one other print of this image in this impressive large format has been offered at auction.