Without knowing its underlying historical context, a viewer is likely to find this print from the Morgan’s collection bafflingly obscure. Once you learn it was published in London during the dark days of the Great Plague of 1665–1666, however, the meaning and significance of “Welcome Home Brother” begins to come into focus and strike an uncomfortably contemporary note.
In early 2018, I received the welcome news that UCLA Library Special Collections would consider lending drawings by Rick Barton to an exhibition at the Morgan. Moreover, more than 600 drawings that had not been located at the time of my visit were now available to view. My next opportunity to travel to Los Angeles would not arrive until October of that year. But in the interim, I made a number of crucial discoveries.
When looking at a medieval manuscript, it is often the illuminations that catch the eye—colorful figures rendered in miniature, gleaming gold backgrounds, ornate initials that twirl and bloom across the margins. But beyond the illuminations, and even beyond the text, the substrate itself merits closer inspection.
Pierpont Morgan’s librarian, Belle da Costa Greene (1883–1950), shepherded the banker’s collections beginning in 1905 and continued doing so for many years after his death in 1913, working alongside his son and eventually serving as the museum’s first director from 1928 until her retirement in 1949. After the Morgan opened its doors as a public institution, the drawings collection—established by Morgan in 1909—continued to grow through gifts from the Morgan family and from a small number of patrons, as well as through select purchases.
Rembrandt’s portrait prints of secular patrons—city officials, physicians and apothecaries, dealers, collectors, and fellow artists—generally depict individuals he knew well. While in most cases, the focus is chiefly on the sitters, in a handful of highly ambitious works, the artist places them in carefully described interior spaces.
The Morgan Book Project is an annual extended-learning program open and free to New York City public school teachers who work with grades 3–12.
Comte Robert de Montesquiou-Fézensac was the arch-aesthete of the Decadent era. Titled, rich, perfectly groomed, and exquisitely attired, he turned himself into a work of art as precious as the poetry he composed and the bibelots he collected.
Two years ago, the Morgan added to its collections a group of eleven drawings acquired from the Souls Grown Deep Foundation, whose mission is to preserve and disseminate the work of vernacular African-American artists from the Southeastern United States.
In the early days of 2018, I arrived in Los Angeles with appointments to see Henry Evans’s Peregrine Press papers at the Clark Memorial Library and a cache of over 700 drawings by Rick Barton at UCLA Library Special Collections. Although I had been assured that the drawings would be available, I worried that something might go wrong or that the drawings would not have been worth the trip.