The Morgan Library and Museum: Much More Than Books



The Morgan Library & Museum began as the private library of financier Pierpont Morgan and was built between 1902 and 1906 next to his New York residence at Madison Avenue and 36th Street.  According to the Morgan, it was ” intended as something more than a repository of rare materials … the structure was to reflect the nature and stature of its holdings.”  In 1924, eleven years after Pierpont Morgan’s death, his son, J. P. Morgan, Jr., transformed the library it into a public institution.  Since then the building has expanded both in its physical structure and content, acquiring  rare materials as well as important music manuscripts, early children’s books, Americana, and materials from the twentieth century. The Morgan offers much more than just a vast book collection. It’s also a wonderful place to see art . Between their special exhibits and their permanent collections, there is something for everyone.

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One exciting exhibit on view now is A Certain Slant of Light: Spencer Finch at the Morgan (through January 11, 2015).  Finch has taken films of color and applied them to the large windows found in the Morgan’s glass-enclosed Gilbert Court; which you see just as you enter the building. His work was inspired by the Morgan’s collection of medieval Books of Hours— hand-painted  personal prayer books for different times of the day and different periods of the year (also on view). To underscore his inspiration, Finch has also hung additional glass panes in the center of the Court. They reflect the colors of the other panels and create a kind of calendar based on the movement of the sun. Nearby, you can see some of the watercolors and sketches Finch created as a first step in the project.

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To experience a different approach to light and color, visit another exhibition called, “A Dialogue with Nature: Romantic Landscapes from Britain and Germany” (until September 7, 2014). The exhibition includes thirty-seven works from the Morgan’s permanent collections. They represent  “two central elements of the Romantic conception of landscape: close observation of the natural world and the importance of the imagination,” according to the Morgan. One of my favorite painters in the collection was JMW Turner, a British Romantic landscape painter who painted during the first half of the 19th century.  One interesting aspect of his work was Turner’s scrapping, blotting, and wiping away the paint while it was still wet. Then he scratched into or drew on dry surfaces to create various details.

There are several other exhibits now on view at the Morgan and all are worth seeing, including: “Miracles in Miniature: The Art of the Master of Claude de France,” and “Sky Studies: Oil Sketches from the Thaw Collection,” as well as some interesting book collections.

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