A Mural’s Majesty Fills the Great Hall

October 3, 2012 | Salute to Scholars, The University

For more than a century “The Graduate” — the mural that adorns the front wall of the Great Hall at The City College of New York — has served as a backdrop for important speeches, receptions and lectures.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt spoke there in 1929 when he was governor of New York. So did New York City Mayors Robert F. Wagner Jr. and Fiorello LaGuardia. More recently the Great Hall hosted former U.S. Secretary of State General Colin Powell, writer and Nobel Laureate Eli Wiesel, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Frank McCourt, actor Arnold Schwarzenegger and in 2004, U.S. Sen. John Kerry who was running for President.

“The Graduate,” is one of only two works painted in New York City by Edwin Howland Blashfield, who in the early 1900s was considered one of the country’s finest muralists. The other painting is in the Manhattan Appellate Courthouse.

Blashfield created his sprawling murals in state capitols, churches, universities, museums and other civic spaces across America. He painted “The Graduate” between 1907-1908, at the height of his career. According to Mina Rieur Weiner, editor of a book titled, “Edwin Howland Blashfield: Master American Muralist,” the mural combines many of Blashfield’s techniques,” such as the “dramatic use of light and dark” and depiction of real and symbolic figures.”  In it a student graduate is surrounded by historic figures like Shakespeare, Beethoven and Sir Isaac Newton, and symbolic figures depicting wisdom, discipline, and great centers of learning like Cordova, Oxford and Bologna.

Architect George Post, who had asked Blashfield to do a mural for the 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago, commissioned “The Graduate.” Post designed the Great Hall as a cathedral to enlightenment — and the mural reflects that design.