Morgan Library and Museum Presents Exhibition Documenting Diary Keeping

The Morgan Library and Museum presents Exhibition Documenting Diary Keeping by writers, artists and other celebrated figures. Open from January 21, 2011.

Charlotte Brontë (1816 1855) relied on her diary to escape stifling work as a schoolteacher; Tennessee Williams (1911 1983) confided his loneliness and self-doubt; John Steinbeck (1902 1968) struggled to compose The Grapes of Wrath, and Bob Dylan (b. 1941) sketched his way through a concert tour.

For centuries, people have turned to private journals to document their days, sort out creative problems, help them through crises, comfort them in solitude or pain, or preserve their stories for the future. As more and more diarists turn away from the traditional notebook and seek a broader audience through web journals, blogs, and social media, a new exhibition at The Morgan Library & Museum explores how and why we document our everyday lives. Drawn from the Morgan’s own extraordinary holdings, The Diary: Three Centuries of Privates Lives is on view from January 21 through May 22, 2011.

With over seventy items on view, the exhibition raises questions about this pervasive practice: what is a diary? Must it be a private document? Who is the audience for the unfolding stories of our lives ourselves alone, our families, or a wider group? The diaries on view allow us to observe, in personal terms, the birth of such great works of art as Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The Scarlet Letter and Gilbert & Sullivan’s opera The Pirates of Penzance. Momentous public events, from the Boston Tea Party to the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, are marked by individual witnesses. Many diarists, such as Henry David Thoreau (1817 1862) and John Newton (1725 1807), former slave trafficker and author of the hymn “Amazing Grace,” look inward, striving to live with integrity. Three great artists in their twenties, all on the brink of fame Joshua Reynolds (1723 1792), Charlotte Brontë, and Kingsley Amis (1922 1995) hone their considerable talents in their private writings. And century after century, many individuals from the famous diarist Samuel Pepys (1633 1703) to Abstract Impressionist painter Charles Seliger (1926 2009) capture memory and mark time by keeping a daily record of the substance of everyday life.

Image: Miniature Dutch almanac and blank book, 1776. Bequest of Julia P. Wightman, 1994.

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

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