NYC Gem: The Morgan Library & Museum

J. P. Morgan’s library in NYC wrote the book on Gilded Age style.

Photographs by Graham Hater

Object of Desire: The classical rooms of J. Pierpont Morgan’s library, built to accommodate the banking titan’s astounding collection of books and manuscripts. 

That Was Then: By the turn of the last century, J. Pierpont Morgan had become the country’s leading financier. Born in Connecticut in 1837 and educated in Europe, he collected a wide range of art and artifacts, particularly rare books, fine bindings, and manuscripts. “Morgan had a passion for the artistic and cultural history of Europe, and an intense love for books and reading,” says Christine Nelson, Drue Heinz Curator of Literary and Historical Manuscripts at the Morgan Library & Museum. In 1902, eager to house his growing collection under one roof, Morgan hired Charles McKim, of McKim, Mead & White, to build a library adjacent to his home on Madison Avenue and East 36th Street.

Photographs by Graham Haber

McKim designed an elegant Italian Renaissance palazzo with an exterior of Tennessee pink marble. Inside, a vaulted rotunda foyer, complete with Greek columns and a ceiling painted by H. Siddons Mowbray, leads to three rooms: a three-story library, where carved inlaid-walnut bookshelves with bronze grillwork rise toward the ceiling; Morgan’s Venetian-style private study, lined with red damask silk and featuring a hand-carved walnut desk and a mammoth Florentine stone fireplace; and a librarian’s office.

Photographs by Graham Haber

This Is Now: Morgan died in 1913, and his son established the library as a public institution in 1924. The house, meanwhile, was torn down and replaced by an annex building that expanded the Morgan into a museum. In 2006, Italian architect Renzo Piano renovated the complex, adding a soaring glass pavilion that unites the buildings.

Photographs by Graham Haber

The restoration of the library’s exterior, which is currently being enhanced with new landscaping and outdoor lighting, is set for completion this fall.

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