Morgan The Man and the Collector
Morgan The Man and the Collector
J. Pierpont Morgan was born in 1837 into a socially and economically well-established New England family. He was schooled in Hartford, Connecticut, and inVevey, Switzerland; he studied for a year at the University of Gottingen in Germany.
He continued and expanded his father’s international banking interests and, in time, played a pivotal role in resolving the financial panics of 1893 and 1907, the United States Treasury crisis of 1895, and the billion- dollar steel merger of 1901. The portrait of Morgan made in 1903 by the great photographer Edward Steichen suggests a man of commanding authority and strong will.
His largesse extended to many other institutions and causes: the National Gallery in London with the purchase of Velazquez’s Rockeby Venus, the rebuilding of the collapsed Campanile in Venice, the building for the American Academy in Rome, the fund for the synod building.
Morgan, benefactor, trustee, and president of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, died in Rome on March 31, 1913, at the age of seventy-five. The Museum’s trustees adopted a resolution the following day that both honored him and gave a revealing remembrance of his character. With the renovation Photographic portrait (1903) ofj. Pierpont Morgan (1837-1913) by Edward Steichen (1879-1973). Alfred Stieglitz Collection, 1949 (49.55.167)of this area in the 1970s, the memorial was moved to its present location at the south end of the Fifth Avenue vestibule. This relief, commemorating Morgan’s service to the Museum, was commissioned from the American sculptor Paul Manship, who was assisted by Gaston Lachaise.
Morgan’s collecting was wide-ranging and vast in scope. He assembled 50 European paintings, more than 75 European sculptures, 260 Renaissance bronzes, 39 tapestries ranging from the Gothic period to the eighteenth century, 140 Italian majolicas, 700 eighteenth-century porcelains, 150 Renaissance and Baroque examples of Continental silver, 550 enamels of all kinds, 22$ ivories (from the Middle Ages through the Baroque period), 900 portrait miniatures, 260 watches and clocks, and 140 examples of jewelry and objects in amber and crystal. There were many Old Master drawings; the Fairfax Murray collection, which he purchased, alone contained 1,500 sheets. There were a number of important examples of French eighteenth-century furniture. The distinguished group of Gallo-Roman, Germanic, and Merovingian antiquities, the focus of the present publication, also attests to Morgan’s broad taste and intense curiosity.
Wilhelm Bode, director of the then Kaiser Friedrich Museum in Berlin, lamented in Kunst and Kunstler (1902—3) that Americans tried to dominate the art trade. Of course Morgan had, and still has, the reputation as a buyer of whole collections, such as those of Oppenheim, Greau, Ward, Queckenberg, Hoentschel, Le Breton, Marfels, Gutmann, Mannheim, Pfungst, Swenigorodskoi, and others. Yet Morgan also demonstrated a keen interest in the individual work of art.
Against the advice of Edward Robinson, later director of the Metropolitan, he purchased a Roman cameo glass cup of the late first century B.C. or early first century a.d. through Arthur Sambon (a dealer in Paris).This prized cup was later acquired by the Corning Museum of Glass. A dealer once told Morgan that the Byzantine silver David plates from the Second Cyprus Treasure (actually made in seventh-century Constantinople), now the pride of the Metropolitan’s Byzantine collection, were the work of a Neapolitan goldsmith. Morgan is reported to have replied, “Anything else this gendeman created, I should be interested in purchasing.”
At the time of Morgans death in 1913 and in the year after, the Metropolitan mounted two exhibitions with significant loans of Morgan objects that had been shipped from London, Paris, and elsewhere in Europe.
The result was the breakup and dispersal of the collection by gift or sale, starting in I9i7-The Metropolitan received a vast assemblage of works ranging from antiquity to the nineteenth century, including some American paintings. The Morgan Memorial Wing at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford received a handsome group of objects as well.
Other works, especially the paintings, the Chinese porcelains, and the best of the Renaissance bronzes and tapestries, were sold.