Like other Gilded Age billionaires, John Pierpont Morgan spent a significant portion of his fortune collecting art and artifacts from around the world. While much of the artwork in his collection ended up at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (where he served as president), Morgan was an avid collector of books and documents which he stored in his private midtown library. After his death, his son placed the impressive collection in the public trust by organizing the Pierpont Morgan Library. Exhibits tend towards the literary, though old master sketches, musical manuscripts, and early photographs are common subjects of small shows.
No price is too high for an object of unquestioned beauty and known authenticity.
What You Will See
The original library, commissioned by Morgan at the turn of the century, is one of the great interior spaces of New York City and a worthy home for objects central to humanity's cultural heritage. The museum's campus has expanded over the years, complimenting the original Gilded Age rooms with airy, modern additions and expanded gallery space, all to highlight the vast collection of books, prints, drawings, photographs and historical documents. Indicative of the depth of Mr. Morgan's collection, the Library is home to three of the 49 known copies of the Gutenberg Bible (the British Library only has two).
Why You Should Go
Books, documents, and prints can be less interesting subjects for a casual visitor than art, but the historical significance of the Morgan's collection, together with careful curation makes the pieces accessible and engaging. With original work from names like Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Dickens, Bronte, Thoreau, Chopin, and Mozart, the library is one of the great repositories of Western Culture (with significant Near Eastern additions) and visitors can have a tour of the last few centuries of genius while contemplating the success and excess of capitalism that collected it.
The legendary artist Betye Saar turned 94 this year, but her popularity continues to grow. After a major exhibition last year at the MoMA, Saar returns to New York with a new exhibit at the Morgan. Saar consulted directly on the presentation of a series of workbooks and sketches together with the finished assemblages. While primarily a retrospective, new works by the artist are also on display in this timely and relevant show.
This remarkable little exhibit is built around a single remarkable work. The artist Barbara Wolff, a rare contemporary craftsman working in Illuminated Books, completed a rendering of the biblical Book fo Ruth, which is not part of the Morgan's permanent collection after a gift by Joanna S. Rose. The eighteen-foot manuscript is written in English on one side and in Hebrew on the other. Supplementing this remarkable contemporary piece are Illuminated Bibles from the collection featuring additional illustrations from the Book of Ruth.
The youngest Bronte sister is the overdue focus of this small installation at the Morgan Library. After the Morgan held a large retrospective for Charlotte Bronte's 200th anniversary in 2016, the museum returns to the Bronte family to celebrate Anne's birthday. While less prolific than her sisters, critics hold Anne's achievements on par. See selections from the library's own holdings from Anne's short life.
2020 marks the 250th birthday of Beethoven. To celebrate, the Morgan Library has selections from JP Morgan's collection of Beethoven's manuscripts on display on the bottom floor. JP Morgan acquired his first Beethoven manuscript in 1907, slowing expanding it over the years. The collection on display is telling: these are sketches, not finished works (despite the autographs on each piece). Marvel at how the mind of a musical genius 'took notes'. As the exhibit states, "the sketches present a challenge to any scholar who attempts to decode [his] handwriting."
This season's rotation from the Morgan Library's vast holdings include manuscripts from Mozart and Wagner compositions, an original quatro of King Lear, and a manuscript from Edgar Allan Poe. Set in one of the city's great interior spaces, surrounded by J.P. Morgan's floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, remember that these impressive selections represent just a sliver of the library's collections.
This tiny exhibition in the basement gathers Romantic landscapes from European artists. Marvel at the effect oil on a tiny canvas produces in the hands of masters like Carl Rottman or Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot. The works are small, which amplifies the impact of a vast panorama captured in such a small frame. Only a handful of works are on display, so your visit may be short, but it is definitely worth a trip down the stairs.