Nearly 100 years ago, the Wadsworth Atheneum received an extraordinary gift of more than 1,350 works of art from the collection of financier J. Pierpont Morgan. These objects, an array of 18th century German and French porcelains, Italian majolica, baroque goldsmith’s work and glass, and a small group of antiquities, now form the core of the museum’s European decorative arts collection.
Morgan’s story as a collector is not as well known as the story of his business career despite the groundbreaking quantity, scope, and character of his collection. Estimated to have exceeded 20,000 works of art assembled in only 23 years, the quality of the collection was remarkably high—a great achievement at a time when scholarship was young and fakery rampant.
Pierpont began to seriously collect art after his father’s death in 1890, and by 1907 he was devoting most of his time to building collections for himself and for institutions. Simultaneously, Morgan’s extensive philanthropies invigorated and reshaped a number of fledgling public institutions like the Metropolitan Museum, the Museum of Natural History, and the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art.
Morgan: Mind of the Collector explores Pierpont’s groundbreaking collecting career through its impact on art scholarship, the art market, and the redefining of collecting in American and European culture. Profiling what he collected and how, the exhibition assesses this remarkable man and his colossal achievement with fresh eyes and the distance of a century. Was he a cultural super-hero, a ransacking barbarian, or something more nuanced? Featuring stellar works of art from the Wadsworth Atheneum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Morgan Library, this exhibition tells a variety of illuminating stories about J. Pierpont Morgan as a collector, delving into his mind and exploring his enduring legacy.
Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website