a truly terrific new york listing

A Turn-of-the-Century Portrait Painter’s Studio in Gramercy Park

The great room has 18-foot-high ceilings and a wall of windows that open onto a Juliet balcony. Photo: Brad Stein
Cecilia Beaux

The apartment atop 132 East 19th Street seems built for a painter, and it did draw one in. A high wall of windows that lets in diffuse northern light — or lets out turpentine fumes — was probably a requirement for Cecilia Beaux, who arrived shortly after the building went up in 1911, and pulled in a roster of posh clients who sat for hours beneath the 18-foot-high ceilings for a chance to be remembered by her brush. The space was where Beaux likely painted a portrait that now hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art depicting Helena De Kay Gilder, a painter and her close friend, whose home off Gramercy Park initially brought her to the neighborhood.

From left: The wood-burning fireplace has a 14th-century French mantelpiece. Photo: Brad SteinA Little Girl (1887) Photo: Cecilia Beaux
From top: The wood-burning fireplace has a 14th-century French mantelpiece. Photo: Brad SteinA Little Girl (1887) Photo: Cecilia Beaux

The New Yorkers who have taken over Beaux’s studio since she passed away in 1942 haven’t worked exclusively as painters — but they seem to have appreciated the setup: The apartment has only gone up for sale three times in the 81 years since Beaux’s death, and that includes the listing posted this week. If no one wants to leave, that may be because the space feels like “a little house on top of the building,” says agent Marc Fichera. The two bedrooms off the entryway both have windows on two sides, including some facing south. Plus, there’s a second story, sort of: A retractable stairway in the main hallway leads up to a windowless room — perfect for storage or hiding in panic. Then there are what Fichera calls the “funky things”: architectural antiques that might have been salvaged by Beaux herself, like a supposed 14th-century French mantelpiece, old library ladders, and antique wooden doors — one with a peephole, another with a panel of stained glass.

From left: The antique doors are varied. One has a stained-glass inset, another a peephole. Photo: Brad SteinPhoto: Brad Stein
From top: The antique doors are varied. One has a stained-glass inset, another a peephole. Photo: Brad SteinPhoto: Brad Stein

Around the time Beaux bought the apartment, she was traveling to France often, says scholar Tara Leigh Tappert, who recounts the episodes in her book Out of the Background: Cecilia Beaux and the Art of Portraiture. Beaux’s father was also a Frenchman, and Beaux had “very romantic ideas about who they were,” said Tappert. “It just makes sense that she would have added something like that to her apartment.”

Graphic: Compass

It also makes sense because Cecilia Beaux was always looking backwards, nostalgic for the aesthetic of bygone eras. While her contemporaries embraced cubism, Dadaism, and abstraction, Beaux remained an Impressionist figurative painter. By her death in 1942, Beaux’s thick, buttery style was as out of place as a 14th-century French mantelpiece in a 1911 Arts & Crafts building. But 100 years later, the mix of styles seems natural. “It feels very eclectic,” said Fichera, the agent representing the listing, “like it’s been built up over time.”

Ironwork doors open from a wide hallway into the great room, which looks north over 19th Street. Photo: Brad Stein
The stained glass over the fireplace isn’t a window. It’s backed by lights. Photo: Brad Stein
The apartment is in a 1911 building designed by Frederick Sterner. Ida Tarbell, the journalist, was also a resident. Photo: Brad Stein
The view north over 19th Street. The apartment has a Juliet balcony and exposures on all four sides. Photo: Brad Stein
One of two bedrooms. Photo: Brad Stein
The second bedroom. Photo: Brad Stein
The bathroom. Photo: Brad Stein
A kitchen with a vaulted ceiling has been updated since Beaux described it as a “kitchenette.” Photo: Brad Stein
One of the antique doors, which may have come from Beaux or another former resident. Photo: Brad Stein
A Turn-of-the-Century Portrait Painter’s Studio on 19th St.