The largest cultural institutions of New York City like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The American Museum of Natural History and New York Public Library, were established in the latter half of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century. There was a major push among the wealthiest Americans to establish a cultural identity of our own. We were a young country, bereft of the cultural lineage that existed in Europe. Despite America’s youth we showed ourselves to be a vast country, devoted to the dollar, with seemingly room for little else. But men, like J.P. Morgan understood that life void of education and culture was a life not worth living. A balance must be met, to soften the edge of a hard capitalist society. Despite the controversy surrounding Morgan in regards to how he conducted himself in business, the fact remains that we owe much to him and others like him who bestowed great wealth on institutions, whose sole purpose was to enrich the lives of everyone and that tenet still holds today.
A number of years ago while in graduate school, I took part in a private tour of the Morgan Library. While we sat in Morgan's sumptuous jewel toned library, replete with priceless volumes from the 16th century to the 20th century, the speaker encouraged us to read Morgan: An American Financier by Jean Strouse. He described the book as the definitive biography of J. P. Morgan. At the conclusion of the tour, my mind a swirl in the world of J.P. Morgan, I made a mental note to myself to read Strouse’s lengthy tome. A few years later, I did.
After reading Strouse’s biography of Morgan, much impressed me about the man: his power, vision and his philanthropy. During the bridge years between the 19th and 20th century, tremendous energy was devoted to giving on a truly monumental scale. Morgan took the lead in giving among his peers. He perhaps more than any other of his colleagues combed the world over for treasures to fill the museums he was establishing back in America.
With the steady intelligent eye of Bella de Costa Greene by his side, Morgan created a grand and lasting legacy. Every time I enter the Morgan Library or the Metropolitan Museum, I bow my head in thanks.
Please join Jean Strouse as she examines J.P. Morgan’s legacy in the arts on Wednesday, Oct. 28 @ 6:30 @ the Mid-Manhattan Library
Images of the Morgan Library courtesy of the Morgan Library http://www.themorgan.org/about/historyMore.asp?id=11
Image of the Metropolitan Museum courtesy of: http://www.nyc-architecture.com/UES/UES074.htm