|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.
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.
|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.
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.
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