In 1903, as part of a larger City Hall restoration project under architect William Martin Aiken, artist Taber Sears won a competition to paint the City Council Chamber ceiling murals. Completed with the assistance of artists George W. Breck and Frederick C. Martin and painted with oil on canvas, the large central oval mural and four smaller octagonal murals celebrate the unification of the five boroughs and the founding of the Greater City of New York.
The classically allegorical central mural includes figures representing prosperity, civilization, wisdom, navigation, and agriculture, as well as a central figure extending a scroll to a figure below in a white robe personifying New York City. A young militant boy holds a shield with the arms of the City in his left hand and the sword of the State in his right. Behind this scene, a globe rises with Florida and Cuba clearly noticeable to the left of the central figure, a possible reference to the 1898 Spanish-American War, which ended with the United States defeating Spain and gaining control of Cuba. Below, the Brooklyn Bridge represents the accomplishments of the unification of the boroughs, while a large sailing vessel represents New York City's importance as a port.
The four surrounding murals represent Justice, Government, Commerce, and Peace and include the following quotations:
Equal and Exact Justice to all Men of Whatever State or Persuasion - Jefferson
A Government of the People by the People for the People - Lincoln
Our Commercial Policy Should Hold an Equal and Impartial Hand - Washington
Let Us Have Peace - Grant
Over the years, the combined effects of age, accumulated dirt and soot, and past water damage caused significant damage to the murals. As part of the 2010-2015 City Hall Rehabilitation, the murals were carefully removed from the ceiling and transported to conservation studios, where fine art conservators cleaned them of decades of dirt and discolored varnishes, removed old plaster and adhesives from the backs of the canvases, and filled in areas of lost paint. Conservators also restored the decorative plaster ceiling and the walls behind the murals, providing a stable backing for the reinstalled murals.
The restoration of the City Council Chamber ceiling and murals was made possible through the generous support of the Charina Endowment Fund, Gilder Foundation, Leon Levy Foundation, the Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City, Municipal Art Society, Oscar de la Renta, Arthur Ross Foundation, May and Samuel Rudin Family Foundation, and Tishman Speyer Properties.