December 25, 2016

A Visit to The Morgan Library

While department stores were jammed with last-minute shoppers in a desperate hunt for something to put under the tree, Christmas Eve found Manhattan museums an oasis of calm!  I took advantage of this lull to pay an overdue visit to one of my favorite small but very fine cultural institutions, The Morgan Library, to catch several exhibitions before they close.
Pencil sketch autoportrait, c. 1834

Let's begin in the upstairs gallery with "Charlotte Brontë:  An Independent Will" an celebration of the two hundredth anniversary of the writer's birth.  Similar to the title character in her 1847 novel "Jane Eyre", Charlotte Brontë was a woman ahead of her time.  Not content in the traditional female occupation of governess, she pursued, and succeeded in, a career as an author at a time when the options for gainful employment for women were slim.

The earliest surviving manuscript by Charlotte Brontë
written when she was 12 for her younger sister Anne

This exhibition brings together a collection of original manuscripts and letters, early publications, her portable writing desk and paintbox and even a dress she wore in 1850.  It marks a remarkable collaboration between The Morgan, New York, The Brontë Parsonage Museum, Haworth, West Yorkshire, and the National Portrait Gallery, London, who contributed items never before seen in America.  Charlotte Brontë's life may have been short (she died at the age of 38), but it was remarkable and she is honored here as a symbol of what a determined spirit can achieve.

Downstairs, just off the main atrium we find a small gallery dedicated to a recently re-constructed altarpiece by Flemish Renaissance painter Hans Memling.  Here, re-united for the first time since it was taken apart in the18th century, is the magnificent "Triptych of Jan Crabbe".  Created in Brugge circa 1470, the altarpiece is typical of Memling's attention to portraiture and his ability to represent both religious and secular subjects with equal skill and importance.  Two of the panels had been in Mr. Morgan's original collection and are usually on permanent view in the museum's library.  The other panels are on loan from museums in Vicenza, Italy, and Brugge, Belgium, in a remarkable collaboration to present the altarpiece is as close to original condition as possible.

Workshop of Lucas Cranach the Elder
"Martin Luther with Doctor's Cap", c. 1520

Located in a nearby gallery is an exhibition devoted to one of the most influential people in Christianity - Martin Luther.  "Word and Image:  Martin Luther's Reformation" explores the man and his movement through manuscripts, paintings and sculpture and some of the earliest examples of the printed word.

Commemorative portrait of "Martin Luther with Luther Rose" c. 1572

2017 marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther posting his "Ninety-Five Theses" to the church door in Wittenberg thereby challenging the Holy Roman Empire and the Pope and creating a new option for Christian believers.  He did this peacefully using some of the newest technology available at the time - the printing press.  On view is one of the six examples of his "Ninety-Five Theses" still extant, over thirty examples of Luther's publications, as well as numerous works by the German Renaissance master Lucas Cranach the Elder.

Foreground:  Conrad Meit "Adam" and "Eve", c. 1510, boxwood sculptures
Background:  Lucas Cranach the Elder "Adam and Eve", 1532, oil on board

Stepping (briefly) back into the 20th century, we cross the hall to "Dubuffet Drawings: 1935-1962", an exhibition featuring approximately one hundred examples of works on paper by the French artist.  Known primarily as the founder of Art Brut, Jean Dubuffet was an early proponent of naïve art and his drawings and watercolors are particularly notable for their childlike imagery.

"Michaux griffures blanches [Henri Michaux with White Scratches]", 1942

Using techniques of layering, collage, scratching and rubbing, Dubuffet sought to imbue everyday things with a new life, to be seen in a fresh perspective.

"Vache [Cow]", 1954

Though Jean Dubuffet has enjoyed museum retrospectives around the world, this is the first exhibition devoted exclusively to his works on paper and as such presents a unique perspective on this influential artist.

"Galeries Lafayette", 1961

The last stop is Mr. Morgan's library which is always a pleasure to visit but especially so on the day before Christmas as the Morgan's own original manuscript of Charles Dickens's "A Christmas Carol" is on display for the holidays.  This year the manuscript is opened to the page where Scrooge is coming to the end of his encounter with the ghost of Jacob Marley and, terrified, he is witnessing a scene full of phantoms - many of whom he recognizes.  The original "A Christmas Carol" is just one of the many treasures acquired by J.P. Morgan that is now part of his collecting legacy -  legacy that  I would encourage you to enjoy at his eponymous Library and Museum anytime, but especially over the holidays!
"Mr Fezziwig's Ball"

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