Based on an 1887 poem about an artist who dies while painting his love’s face on the floor of a bar, the literal Face on the Barroom Floor in Colorado’s Teller House Bar was simply the work of a wronged painter.
In 1936, Denver artist Herndon Davis was commissioned to paint a number of works about Central City’s history as a mining town as the city made the transition into an opera town and tourist destination.
However, after getting in an argument with the project director and nearly being fired, Davis decided to lash out at his employers and paint the famous face on their barroom floor, which he thought perfectly modeled the one in the poem. With the help of a staff member, Davis snuck in and painted a woman’s face on the floor, modeled after Davis’ wife, Edna Juanita (Nita).
Unfortunately for Davis, his revenge backfired. When the artful graffiti was discovered the next day, the bar decided to capitalize on the work and credited the painting to poet Hugh Antoine D’Arcy, author of “The Face Upon the Floor.” D’Arcy, a French-born poet and filmmaker, died in 1925, 11 years prior.
The painting has survived to this day and is sectioned off with stanchions and the work has been correctly accredited. The Face on the Barroom Floor may be proof that art rarely makes an effective revenge.
Know Before You Go
The Central City Opera House and Teller Bar are open to the public during the opera season, May through August. Gilpin Historical Society offers tours Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. As of October 2018, the price to tour the Teller House was $6.