Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Spring in full force

Dining al fresco last night in the West Village. Photo: JH.
A beautiful day in New York, followed by a balmy spring evening. I went down to the Morgan Library on Madison and 36th Street for a cocktail reception to celebrate the Spring issue and 26th anniversary of BOMB magazine. Ahh, you don’t know about BOMB? You do? I must admit I only knew of it by name.

Twenty-six years is a long life for a magazine and even longer for one that is not popularly known. But BOMB is a special magazine, a cultural quarterly with a very active editorial board. Four times a year they produce an issue filled with conversations with artists –painters, actors, poets, directors, musicians, novelists, sculptors. The magazine is the only one of its kind and supported by its readers. Its list of supporters is stellar in New York terms, including: Agnes Gund, Paula Cooper, Donna Rosen, Alexandra Lind and Louis Rose, Julie Macklowe. Paula Cooper, Marie Martinez, Elizabeth Kabler, Alice and Paul Judelson, Alex Lari, George Negroponte, Anne Livet, Tatiana and Campion Platt, Janne Bullock and Donald Zilkha. This year they will also celebrate with a fundraising gala on April 17th in Chelsea at The Park.

Mr. Morgan’s Italian Renaissance style Library was built between 1902 and 1906 next door to Mr. Morgan’s brownstone on the northeast corner of 36th Street and Madison Avenue. It was designed by Charles McKim of McKim, Mead and White and conceived as a repository for some of  the international banker and collector’s paintings, sculpture, books, and antiquities. It contained three rooms – a three story library that is considered McKim’s masterpiece (he died shortly after its completion), an office for Mr. Morgan, separated by a magnificent marble gallery.

The Morgan Collection today includes original manuscripts of Sir Walter Scott, Honore de Balzac, Percy Bysshe Shelley, George Sand, Thackeray, Lord Byron, Charlotte Bronte; drawings of Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael, Rembrandt, Rubens, Gainsborough, Durer and Picasso, as well as early printed Bibles, including three Gutenbergs; original poems by Robert Burns, a manuscript of Charles Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol,” one of Henry David Thoreau’s journals; autographed scores and libretti of Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin, Mahler, Verdi, Mozart.

It was in Mr. Morgan’s office that he organized the end of the Panic of ’07 by gathering the liquidity to rescue the failing banking system, under siege by a depositers’ panic.
Clockwise from top left: J. Pierpont Morgan, aged 65 with grandchild in 1902; The Charles McKim designed Morgan Library; Adelaide Douglas; Her Trumbauer-designed townhouse at 57 Park Avenue (now the Guatamalan mission).
After the completion of the library, Morgan financed a house around the corner at 57 Park Avenue for Adelaide Douglas, his longtime mistress. Mrs. Douglas commissioned Horace Trumbauer (who designed the James B. Duke house, now the NYU Institute of Art at 78th Street and Fifth Avenue). Both Morgan and Douglas were unhappily married although by the time the Park Avenue house was completed (in 1911) Mrs. Douglas was permanently separated from her husband.  TheDouglas-Morgan liaison by that time was more like an intimate friendship. The Douglas house had a special door reached through the back alley through which the banker, having walked only a block, could slip in unnoticed. Jean Strouse in her biography of the man (one of the best biographies I’ve ever read; Random House 1999) said that Mrs. Douglas’ grandchildren were aware of the old man’s visits and were instructed to always make themselves invisible if he were around.

The entry way to the Library
So, back at the BOMB cocktail reception, in Mr. Morgan’s Library it is impossible to focus on anything but awe and the wonder of men’s passions because one is surrounded by them, as well as surrounded by the gargantuan power of one man’s personality. What was it like for the man to move about in this treasure trove brilliant with his sensitivity and its results?

In Jean Strouse’s book you gather a very clear picture of a big personality, a man with a gruff even foreboding countenance in his maturity, yet a man with a very strong “feminine” side, a deeply sensitive side expressed through his love of art and the arts, as well as pleasure in the frequent company of women -- smart women, good looking, clever women, cultured women. Married women, preferably. For Mr. Morgan had a wife; long-suffering she was.

He died just a couple of weeks before his 76th birthday in 1913. Mrs. Douglas had been previously provided with a $500,000 trust fund (like $20 million today) as well as a great many gifts of furniture, art, manuscripts and sculpture. The Morgan house (a brownstone) came down in 1928 and replaced with an addition to the Library. On the northeast corner of the block at 37th Street, still stands the imposing brownstone mansion of Morgan’s son JP Jr. (known as Jack). It was Jack Morgan who first expanded the Library in the mid-1920s, admitting the public to visit his father’s collections.

Leaving the Morgan last night, I walked the route that the old man took on his visits to his adored Adelaide, a short and lovely walk on a night like last night, for considering the simple pleasures of life: good company, comforting, soothing.
The new Renzo Piano designed addition to the Morgan Library.
The Gallery.
L. to r.: BOMB editor Betsy Sussler with Lucy and Irving Sadler; Michele Gerber Klein and Marie Martines.
Charles McKim's masterpiece, completed in 1906, the Library.

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