Jayne Wrightsman (1919–2019) was a renowned art collector, a celebrated philanthropist to New York cultural institutions, and a fashion icon. Around 1950, Wrightsman and her husband, Charles (1895–1986), became interested in the art and interiors of eighteenth-century France. In a design scheme she described as “Marie-Antoinette-ing it up,” Wrightsman set out to redecorate the couple’s homes in courtly fashion, furnishing them with a growing number of artworks, including French books and bindings that comprised a core part of this expanding collection. The books—monuments of fine printing, illustration, and bookbinding were displayed centrally amid the couple’s Versailles-inspired interiors, accompanying gilded furniture, parquet floors, paintings, sculpture, and other objets d’art. Seen together, this exquisite ensemble formed a stunning tableau in celebration of the French decorative arts.
In the spring of 2019, Wrightsman bequeathed her book collection to the Morgan, an institution she had supported for many years as a donor and trustee. Bound for the highest echelons of eighteenth-century French society, the books once belonged to kings, queens, dukes, and duchesses. This exhibition honors Jayne Wrightsman’s gift and her collecting acumen by examining the bound book as a fixture of French courtly life during the ancien régime, and recognizing its integral relationship to the period’s broader artistic and intellectual developments. The Wrightsman gift expands and supports the Morgan’s existing collection of French books and bindings, established through the generosity of the institution’s founder, J. Pierpont Morgan, and benefactors such as Dannie and Hettie Heineman, Gordon N. Ray, Beatrice Bishop Berle, and Julia P. Wightman.
Bound for Versailles: The Jayne Wrightsman Bookbindings Collection is made possible with support from the Jamie and Maisie Houghton Fund and the Parker Gilbert Fund, and with assistance from Barbara G. Fleischman and the Malcolm Hewitt Wiener Foundation.
Unless otherwise designated, all objects in the exhibition are from the Morgan Library & Museum and were donated by Mrs. Jayne Wrightsman in honor of Mrs. Annette de la Renta.