Morgan Library and Museum McKim Building to Reopen

Musical Performances, Lecture, and Guided Tours for the Public Celebrate Opening Day

On October 30, The Morgan Library & Museum’s landmark McKim building will reopen to the public following the completion of the most extensive restoration of its interior spaces since its construction more than one hundred years ago. The building, designed by the firm of McKim, Mead and White, was once the private study and library of financier Pierpont Morgan. The Italianate marble villa, designed in the spirit of the High Renaissance, is considered one of New York’s great architectural treasures, and its interiors are regarded as some of the most beautiful in America. The $4.5 million restoration revitalizes the historic center of the Morgan, in many ways completing the institution’s dynamic transformation that began in 2006 with Pritzker Prize-winning architect Renzo Piano’s successful expansion and renovation of the campus.

The project provides enhanced exhibition space for the institution and enables the Morgan to share with the public more treasures from its world-renowned permanent collection. The inaugural installation demonstrates the extraordinary quality and scope of Pierpont Morgan’s interests as a collector and cultural steward. Nearly 300 objects dating from 3500 BC to the twentieth century will be displayed throughout the building’s majestic rooms in a series of rotating exhibitions. Previously, only about thirty objects were regularly on view in the McKim.

The Morgan will celebrate the restoration project with a series of special activities, culminating with the October 30 public opening. Beginning with a media preview on October 21, the week-long festivities will include a special gala for Morgan patrons and a members’ open house. The public opening will include performances by student musicians from the Mannes College The New School of Music, and the New-Trad Octet, as well as a special lecture by Morgan director William M. Griswold and docent-led tours of the McKim building throughout the day. Special screenings of the film, All the Beautiful Things in the World: An Introduction to the Morgan, also will be presented that day.

“The reopening of the McKim building is a special moment in the history of the institution,” said Morgan Director William M. Griswold, who is guiding the first major capital project since he assumed his position in 2008. “The building is the heart and soul of The Morgan Library & Museum. Not only does it embody the taste and vision of the museum’s founder and patron, Pierpont Morgan, but over the years its beautiful rooms have become synonymous with all that makes the Morgan special. No visit to the museum is complete without a tour of the McKim building, and now, with this ambitious project and the installation of some of the Morgan’s outstanding treasures, that experience will be greatly enhanced.”

Room-by-Room Summary
The restoration project encompasses all of the McKim’s rooms and exhibition spaces. Key components include new lighting throughout the building to better illuminate its extraordinary murals and decor, the opening of the North Room to visitors for the first time, installation of new exhibition cases to house rotating displays of masterpieces from the Morgan’s collections, restoration of period furniture and fixtures, and cleaning of the walls and applied ornamentation.

Library (East Room)
Pierpont Morgan’s stunning library, also known as the East Room, is defined by its majestic thirty-foot walls, lined floor to ceiling with triple tiers of bookcases made of inlaid Circassian walnut and featuring volumes of European literature from the sixteenth through twentieth centuries. The library now will be equipped with a new state-of-the-art, yet subtle lighting system; a newly installed late-nineteenth-century Persian rug of the type originally in the room; and newly designed display cases that will be used to exhibit some of the Morgan’s most valued objects.

The revamped lighting will allow visitors to fully appreciate the splendor of the lunettes and spandrels of the library’s decorative ceiling, the work of noted muralist Henry Siddons Mowbray (1858–1928), which features cultural luminaries of the past such as Socrates, Galileo, Botticelli, and Michelangelo, as well as signs of the zodiac. The improved illumination also will significantly enhance the focal point of the room— the grand fireplace and sixteenth-century tapestry depicting the triumph of Avarice, from a series depicting the Seven Deadly Sins.

The inlaid walnut bookshelves that contain the Morgan’s collection of rare books will be enhanced with nonreflective Plexiglas, allowing visitors to identify individual titles and to appreciate the beauty of the exquisite bindings more fully.

An original pendant chandelier, preserved since its removal about seventy years ago and designed by twentieth-century New York designer Edward F. Caldwell, will be restored and rehung at the library’s entrance. Seating also will be installed to enable visitors to spend more time contemplating this extraordinary room.

Prior to the restoration, only a handful of objects were regularly on view in the library. Highlights of the approximately one hundred rotating works that will be on display each year in this room include examples of some of the Morgan’s finest literary and historical manuscripts, medieval and Renaissance illuminated texts, music manuscripts, and printed books and bindings. Visitors will encounter a letter from fifteen-year-old Queen Elizabeth I purchased by Pierpont Morgan in 1900; the manuscript for Balzac’s Eugenie Grandet (1833) with a torturous mass of revisions, corrections, and additions demonstrating the writer’s complex creative process; illustrated notes by Alexander Calder regarding the installation of his “stabiles” from 1941; the Reims Gospel Book, the Morgan’s finest Carolingian manuscript, written in gold at the Abbey of St. Remi (ca. 860); the manuscript of Mozart’s famed “Haffner” Symphony No. 35 (1732); a newly discovered manuscript for Robert Schumann’s “Des Knaben Berglied” (1849) acquired by the Morgan in 2009 and displayed for the first time; one of the earliest editions of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales (1483); the first edition of Lewis Caroll’s Through the Looking Glass (1872) with proofs of Tenniel’s illustrations; Mary Shelley’s annotated copy of her masterpiece Frankenstein (1818); and one of the Morgan’s three original Gutenberg Bibles (ca. 1455), the first book printed with moveable type.

Study (West Room)
The Renaissance-inspired furnishings of the Study, or West Room, and the paintings, sculpture, and decorative arts displayed, reveal the breadth of Morgan’s interests and activity as a collector, and reflect his reputation as a “modern day Medici.” The room is defined by its sixteenth-century Florentine coffered wooden ceiling, red silk damask wall coverings patterned after the wall in the Roman palace of famed Renaissance banker Agostino Chigi, and fifteenth- to seventeenth-century stained glass fragments embedded into the windows.

The Study will be enriched by a more substantive display of works from the collection that surrounded Pierpont Morgan in the early 1900s, when he used the room for personal business, as well as with objects that have been acquired since. More than double the number of objects will be on view, including works never shown before, such as the 1530 Verrazano globe, one of the earliest known dated globes, and a bronze St. John the Baptist after Michelozzo. Other works include paintings by Hans Memling, Francesco Francia, Perugino, and Jacopo Tintoretto, among others.

The steel-lined vault in the southeast corner of the room, equipped with a bank vault door and combination lock, is where Pierpont Morgan housed his most valued acquisitions, particularly his collection of more than 600 medieval and Renaissance manuscripts. The vault remained in use until 2003, housing by then the more than 1,300 medieval and Renaissance manuscripts in the institution’s collection. As part of the McKim restoration project, another modification to the Study makes the vault more accessible to visitors. The curtain currently shrouding the vault’s entrance will be removed, new lighting fixtures will be installed, and the vault shelves will be filled with sumptuous leather boxes that housed the Morgan’s manuscripts and rare books. Several small bronze objects and tomes in which many of Pierpont Morgan’s collections were published also will be on display. The vault’s original runner was conserved and will be installed in its original location.

Additional works of sculpture such as such as the Bust of the Christ Child by Antonio Rossellino and Saint John the Baptist by Giovanni Francesco Rustici will be exhibited on the low bookshelves lining the perimeter of the room, and the lush, velvet-covered furnishings will be reupholstered to evoke the atmosphere of the study as it was in Pierpont Morgan’s day.

North Room
The North Room, the intimate office of the Morgan’s first director, Belle da Costa Greene, will open to the public for the first time, and will be transformed to feature the earliest works in the Morgan’s collection, including objects from the Ancient Near East, Egypt, Greece, and Rome, as well as artifacts from the early medieval period. More than 200 objects will be on permanent view in this new exhibition space. The two-tiered room, lined with walnut bookshelves, features a ceiling of Renaissance-inspired paintings and a bronze bust of Giovanni Boccaccio on the mantle of the fireplace.

Bookshelves along the perimeter of the room will be converted to exquisitely lit cases to display these items, notably a selection of Ancient Near Eastern cylinder seals collected by Pierpont Morgan. Dating from around 3500 BC, these miniature engraved stones were in use for about 3,000 years in the region referred to as Mesopotamia. These seals were the earliest known objects to use pictorial symbols to communicate ideas. Also on view is a selection of clay tablets, including a seventeenth-century BC fragment inscribed with the Babylonian flood epic predating the story of Noah’s Ark in the Old Testament.

The room will accommodate freestanding cases for Near Eastern as well as ancient Greek and Roman objects, including a pair of intricately decorated first-century Roman silver cups and a rare thirteenth-century BC stone tablet featuring cuneiform inscriptions.

The installation also will include jeweled and metalwork objects such as buckles, brooches, and other personal ornaments dating from the second to the tenth centuries, from the collection of Morgan trustee Eugene V. Thaw and his wife, Clare, as well as an eleventh-century jeweled book binding. The Migration-era objects from the Thaw collection document the medieval period in Europe.

The original chandeliers, removed two generations ago, will be refinished and reinstalled, allowing for optimal appreciation of the recently cleaned ceiling and upper-tier bookcases. In addition, two Egyptian basalt votive figures will flank the room’s fireplace on new pedestals.

The Rotunda, originally entered through the grand doors facing 36th Street, is the dramatic center of the McKim building. Its intricate and elaborately decorated ceiling, also painted by Mowbray, refers thematically to the great treasures contained within this remarkable structure, depicting figures from classical antiquity and the great literary epochs of the past, including Homer, Dante, and Petrarch. The splendor of color and texture is supplied by variegated marble surfaces and columns, mosaic panels and columns of lapis lazuli.

The marble surfaces and mosaic panels that are signature features of the McKim Rotunda have been cleaned and restored to their original grandeur for the first time in a century. New lighting will simulate the natural light that originally came through the oculus and will enhance the richly illustrated apse, ceiling, and lunettes.

Prior to the restoration, the Rotunda was not used as an exhibition space. Now, new display cases will be installed, housing the first substantive display of the Morgan’s outstanding collection of Americana, including such great works as autograph letters by Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln, the Morgan’s life mask of George Washington, copies of the first Bible printed in America, and the Declaration of Independence.

Lower Image: William M. Griswold, director of The Morgan Library & Museum.
Photography © John Abbott.

The Morgan Library & Museum
225 Madison Avenue, at 36th Street, New York, NY 10016-3405

Post a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *