May 18 2019

Update: The Hunt for the “Godfather” Train Painting is Over


Two weeks ago, a search began for a lost "Peter Helck" train painting that was seen in the famous "Five Families" scene in the Godfather film. Jerry Jordak and Greg Anderson  have solved this mystery.

Enjoy,

Howard Kroplick


May 4, 2019

A memorable scene in the classic 1972 Godfather film was shot in the 32nd floor board room of the New York Central building (now the Helmsley Building-230 Park Avenue).  Prominent in the scene was thought to be a painting of the 1890's New York Express #999 by Peter Helck. This spectacular painting had not been seen since 2007.


Greg Anderson had been searching for this painting for several years and provided the following information and links:

The painting was first discussed on January 12, 2012 on the Penn Central Railroad Historical Society:

'"The mural was painted by Peter Helck and represents the Empire State Express passenger train as it appeared in the 1890's at a generic location along the Hudson River. It was removed from the wall of that room by August 2007 after the building was sold to Helmsley Group. Whether the mural was eventually sold, donated, stored, or what, I don't yet know."

The search for the painting was again discussed on January 18, 2015 in the Peter Helck Fan Page on Facebook:

"The New York Central boardroom was used to shoot the scene in which the heads of the "5 Families" meet to end the war between the Corleones and the Tataglias. The painting can be seen behind Richard Conte who played crime-boss Barzini.This large painting was removed from the building in 2007 and its current location is unknown."


I reached out to Tim Helck, Peter Helck's grandson, for any details about the painting.

Tim Helck

Howard,  most everything I know about this story I got from the same link that you found, and I posted it on the Peter Helck Fan page. It was painted before my father was born, or maybe when he was very young. He remembers hearing a story about my grandfather cutting his hand badly while trimming a train canvas with a razor blade (on the day it was due). There was a lot of blood, but fortunately none got on the picture and his studio assistant, a young woman named Fanny Bayer, was able to deliver it. I imagine it was rolled up, that she didn't have to carry it through the streets of midtown while it was mounted on its stretcher.
 
It would be great if somebody were to find the actual picture.  
 
Tim



Greg Anderson- May 14, 2019

Looks like the mystery has been solved thanks to Jerry Jordak of the Penn Central Railroad Historical Society. Jerry found that the work was not painted by Peter Helck, it was painted by artist Lumen Martin Winter

In searching  for Mr. Winter I also came across this information: The Lumen Martin Winter  had been in the possession of The Pennsylvania State Historical and Museum Commission. In the fall of 2014, it was deaccessioned by the commission, and put up for auction.

Jerry Jordak provided this link showing details of the auction that was held on November 9, 2014 at the Cordier Auctions in Harrisburg, PA.  The estimate for the painting was $4,000 to $6,000.

The painting sold for an amazingly low price of only $1,000. It was purchased by an avid fan of the film, and is now in his private residence.


Auction Item Overview

 DESCRIPTION: Lumen Martin Winter (American, 1908-1982). Wall mural. The Empire State Express, No. 999. 1965. Depicts the flagship high speed passenger locomotive developed for the New York Central & Hudson River Railroad as it pulls passenger cars along a New York landscape. The Empire Express No. 999 was an American type locomotive with 4-4-0 wheels. It became the fastest manmade invention. Born in 1908 in Ellery, Illinois, Winter attended the Cleveland School of Art and the National Academy of Design in New York. He then took part in a Federal Arts Project set up by the Works Progress Administration, painting murals in Post Offices, schools, and other public buildings.

 PROVENANCE: Created by Lumen Winter for the walls of the New York Central Railroad headquarters boardroom in 1965. In 1972, the former New York Central Railroad boardroom was used as a location in the filming of "The Godfather". Shown in the scene depicting the meeting of the five families, it is hanging on the wall behind Don Emilio Barzini, Richard Conte, and serves as a backdrop as the five dons pledge their allegiance to peace.

MEASUREMENTS: Approximately 16' wide x 9' high.

CONDITION: Light surface wear throughout. Raw edges due to removable from building wall.


The Godfather Painting

On the far right is a painting of Willie K's grandfather William H. Vanderbilt.


Meeting of the Five Families

The painting can be seen at the 2:38 and 5:26 marks.


230 Park Avenue Building

The Helmsley Building



Comments

May 05 2019 Chuck Mitchell 1:11 PM

Yesterday I watched the RM Sotheby’s sale of the Guyton Collection .There were several Helck pieces of note including the very haunting “NIGHT RIDER ” I consider to be one of his finest pieces which sold for 40k plus fees ,a bargain.Now wish I had registered,all can be seen online.

May 05 2019 mark schaier 9:35 PM

Peter Helck had a father who was an artist? who did the train mural. Any enlighten on this??
————————-
Howard Kroplick

Tim Helck is the grandson of Peter Helck and the son of Jerry Helck.

May 06 2019 Brian D McCarthy 7:25 PM

Being that Greg Anderson has been on the hunt for this painting for many years, I’ll assume that he’s visited the Helmsley Building. The 32nd floor is occupied by - 5W Public Relations LLC. Wonder if the Boardroom still exists, however renovated. I’d be shocked if the painting is actually found.

May 08 2019 Greg Anderson 10:53 AM

I spoke to someone at the 5W office on the 32 floor and was told that the painting is not on that floor.

May 14 2019 Greg Anderson 12:39 AM

Looks like the mystery has been solved thanks to Jerry Jordak of the Penn Central Railroad Historical Society. Jerry found that the work was not painted by Peter Helck, it was painted by artist Lumen Martin Winter.  Jerry provided us with this link showing that the art work went up for auction in recent years.

“Item Overview
Description: DESCRIPTION: Lumen Martin Winter (American, 1908-1982). Wall mural. The Empire State Express, No. 999. 1965. Depicts the flagship high speed passenger locomotive developed for the New York Central & Hudson River Railroad as it pulls passenger cars along a New York landscape. The Empire Express No. 999 was an American type locomotive with 4-4-0 wheels. It became the fastest manmade invention. Born in 1908 in Ellery, Illinois, Winter attended the Cleveland School of Art and the National Academy of Design in New York. He then took part in a Federal Arts Project set up by the Works Progress Administration, painting murals in Post Offices, schools, and other public buildings. PROVENANCE: Created by Lumen Winter for the walls of the New York Central Railroad headquarters boardroom in 1965. In 1972, the former New York Central Railroad boardroom was used as a location in the filming of “The Godfather”. Shown in the scene depicting the meeting of the five families, it is hanging on the wall behind Don Emilio Barzini, Richard Conte, and serves as a backdrop as the five dons pledge their allegiance to peace. MEASUREMENTS: Approximately 16’ wide x 9’ high. CONDITION: Light surface wear throughout. Raw edges due to removable from building wall.”
https://www.invaluable.com/auction-lot/lumen-martin-winter-american-1908-1982-950-c-a0a96c7249

In searching Mr. Winter I also came across this information:
The Lumen Martin Winter mural of Empire Express 999 seen during the meeting of the five families in the old New York Central Rail Road boardroom had been in the possession of The Pennsylvania State Historical and Museum Commission. In the fall of 2014, it was deaccessioned by the commission, and put up for auction. It was purchased by an avid fan of the movie, and is now in his private residence.

Thank you Jerry Jordak for your assistance with this treasure hunt.

May 19 2019 Walt Gosden 12:18 PM

I imagine the low price received for the painting was due mainly because of its size, very very large! I have a b & w sketch done by Peter Helck that I bought from Austin Clark at least 4 decades ago that also has a train in the backround - Peter used a large scale Buddy L toy train set for the scale and proportion of his art work and had one of these Buddy L ‘outdoor railroads’ on the wall of his studio . When I visited him with Austin I saw it and told Peter ” hey I have one of those” we both enjoyed that and spoke about how well Buddy L toys reproduced the proportions etc of the Baldwin locomotive in the 1920s. I am taking my sketch with also has three old cars in the foreground on a road scene ( curved dash Olds, Old 16 etc) to be reframed as the paper is starting to wrinkle and it will eventually be sold as I just have to much stuff and no place to display it.

May 19 2019 Tim Helck 1:11 PM

Thanks to Greg Anderson and Jerry Jordak for clearing up this mystery. The painting as it appears in the movie scenes has subdued colors which are similar to the color pallet of much of my grandfather’s early work. However the pictures of the painting in its current state show its correct pallet, and it clearly is not a Helck.

The artist, Lumen Martin Winters, executed many murals for public buildings, including the United Nations General Assembly building. You can learn more about him here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lumen_Martin_Winter.

May 20 2019 Steven Vilardi 8:09 AM

I wonder if that painting was used as a backdrop because the train was number 999. Turn 999 over and it is 666 the sign of the Devil! It has been a long time since I have seen that movie but wasn’t that meeting a turning point of the Organization?

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