January 12, 2014

A Winter Visit to The Morgan

I think it's fair to say that The Morgan Library and Museum is one of the great unsung cultural institutions here in New York.  Within the opulent surroundings of financier J.P. Morgan's Madison Avenue residence and library lie works of art, manuscripts, rare books and drawings that represent the very best that money and a discerning eye could acquire.  Since the most recent expansion in 2006, The Morgan Library and Museum has even more space in which to mount temporary exhibitions that showcase treasures from the vault in combination with exceptional private and public loans giving visitors yet another reason to visit.

Now on view are two very disparate but fascinating shows "Leonardo da Vinci: Treasures from the Biblioteca Reale, Turin" and "Edgar Allen Poe: Terror of the Soul".  Let's start upstairs with the elegant brilliance of Italian Renaissance artist, inventor and all-around genius Leonardo da Vinci.

A small but exquisite loan exhibition held to commemorate the Year of Italian Culture in the United States, this show presents drawings and treatises by Leonardo and his followers, called "Leonardeschi".  Presented for the first time in New York is a delicate drawing entitled "Head of a Young Woman", executed in the 1480's as a study for the angel in "Virgin of the Rocks"(see right).  Another masterpiece making its debut in New York is Leonardo's "Codex on the Flight of Birds" in which he examines how birds fly and theorizes on flight in general.  Truly ahead of his time!

Downstairs on the main floor is an exhibition devoted to a purely American genius, the "Master of the Macabre", Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849).  The "first American author to live entirely by his pen", Poe was an accomplished writer, critic, journalist and editor but he considered himself first and foremost a poet.  A man of great swings in fame, fortune and mental stability, his short but frenzied life produced what are now considered masterpieces of Gothic literature and continues to be a major influence on writing today.

Drawn from the Morgan's own resources with important contributions from Susan Jaffe Tane, a preeminent Poe collector, and the New York Public Library, "Terror of the Soul" brings together manuscripts, photographs, letters and even a piece of Poe's original coffin to present an in depth look into the life of this mysterious man.  The exhibition is organized thematically, including poetry, tales and criticisms and featuring pages and scrolls of his distinctive handwritten manuscripts and letters alongside rare printed pamphlets and books.  Of particular interest is a fire-singed manuscript of "The Bells", a very early printed example of "The Raven" illustrated by Edouard Manet, and a daguerreotype taken four days after he had attempted suicide with laudanum (see above).

The last section of the exhibition is dedicated to his huge impact on writers and artistic movements to this day.  Indeed, it is Poe's obsession with doppelg√§ngers, spirits, madness and the grotesque that spurred the French Symbolists into action.  Both admired and despised it is impossible to reject Poe's influence on literary figures from Charles Dickens to Arthur Conan Doyle to Vladimir Nabokov to Stephen King, not to mention the movies and popular culture.  "Terror of the Soul" is an appropriate title for a tribute to this troubled man whose inner demons drove him to produce some of the most iconic works of literature to this day.

No comments: