Monthly Archives: September 2019

Morgan’s Library

Morgan Library & Museum, New York City

Concern over inequality and the power of huge corporations is nothing new.  At the end of the nineteenth century the richest 1% of the American population owned 51% of the nation’s wealth.

One of the most powerful of the “robber barons” (or “captains of industry”, depending on your viewpoint) was J Pierpont Morgan (1837-1914) who amassed great wealth by consolidating already large enterprises into conglomerates – General Electric, International Harvester and the United States Steel Corporation.

In the financial emergency now known as the Panic of 1907 the United States government had, for lack of a central bank, to rely on Morgan to pull together enough support from his fellow financiers to keep the economy afloat.

When he wasn’t making money, J P Morgan took to spending it on great art, amassing a spectacular collection of books, manuscripts, paintings and objets d’art which his son, J Pierpont Morgan Jnr (known as Jack, 1867-1943), endowed as a public institution.

Ever since my first visit to New York in 1981 I’ve been familiar with the Frick Collection, the Fifth Avenue villa that houses the treasures amassed by Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919), but I only recently found the Morgan collection thanks to a Time Out 101-things-to-do-in-New-York feature.

The Morgan Library & Museum occupies the site of J P Morgan’s small colony of brownstone houses off Madison Avenue in Manhattan.  He had bought a townhouse at 219 Madison Avenue at 36th Street as a family home in 1882, and commissioned from the architect Charles F McKim (1847-1909) a purpose-built library extension next door, completed in 1906.  (J P Morgan also bought, in 1903 and 1904 respectively, the two adjacent brownstones, one to demolish for a garden, the other as a residence for his son Jack.)

The 1906 library building is a Palladian design in Tennessee marble, linked to the 1928 annex which Jack Morgan built on the site of his father’s townhouse and to the surviving mid-nineteenth century brownstone by the Expansion of 2006 – three glass pavilions and an atrium by Renzo Piano, the architect of London’s Shard.

The core of the museum is the McKim building – three main rooms, one a triple-decker library, linked by a rotunda.  It was here that Pierpont Morgan corralled his banking colleagues in 1907, literally locking them in until they agreed on a rescue package to safeguard the financial system.

J P Morgan’s policy of acquiring great art with a significant story attached was continued after his death by his librarian, Belle da Costa Greene (1883-1950), a light-skinned woman of colour who was enormously influential in the New York art world.

This is why the collection embraces illuminated manuscripts, incunabula and Near Eastern cylinder seals, alongside the drafts of Bob Dylan’s ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ and ‘It Ain’t Me Babe’.

Within a few paces I examined the manuscript of a symphony by the teenage Mozart corrected by his father, Dr Johnson’s handwriting, a first edition of Jane Austen’s Emma and a Gutenberg Bible.  Hard-headed business dealings paid for this fabulous treasure house of art and human talent, accessible to the public simply by walking in from the street.

Cinderella House

Grainsby Hall, Lincolnshire (1968)

A chance feature in Lincolnshire Life in 1968 led me on my Lincolnshire Road Car Company staff bus-pass to another remote country house not far from Cadeby Hall – the Italianate fantasy of Grainsby Hall, which clearly bemused Henry Thorold in his Lincolnshire Houses book and was dismissed by Pevsner as “crazy”.

I didn’t think the place at all crazy;  in fact, I rather liked it.

It was wilfully asymmetrical, with a tower over the entrance portico and lots of stark plate glass windows which, in 1968, were largely intact.

When I revisited by car a couple of years later, the windows – and, I think, the door – had gone and I was free to take pictures of the shattered and clearly dangerous interior, which included a grand octagonal drawing room and a massive galleried staircase hall.

This Italianate confectionery dated from 1860 and was built around an earlier, eighteenth-century house.

The Haigh family has owned the Grainsby estate since it came to William Haigh of Norland, Halifax, by marriage in 1827.  In the nineteenth century the family owned the Garden Street Mill in Halifax.

The Hall must have been a splendid place but it was occupied by the military during World War II and fell into disrepair.

For a time it was used as a grain store, until it became dangerous.

It quickly became beyond saving, even between the dates of my two visits, and it was duly demolished in February 1973.

The c1820 stable block remains and is listed Grade II.

Sleeping beauty house

Cadeby Hall, Lincolnshire (1982)

I recently read Henry Thorold’s Lincolnshire Houses (Michael Russell 1999), an extensive compendium of domestic buildings in a huge, empty, varied county, ranging from great palaces like Grimsthorpe and Harlaxton to tiny rectories and houses hidden in the Wolds, quite a few of which were built, bought or inherited by Henry Thorold’s relatives over the past four centuries.

It reminded me of when I first got to know Lincolnshire in the late 1960s, working on the buses in Skegness during university vacations, and travelling the county on a quarter-fare staff bus pass.

In those days there was, of course, no easy way to find information about historic buildings in the county, except the local library, the 1964 first edition Pevsner for Lincolnshire, and the periodical Lincolnshire Life.

A few brief paragraphs in Lincolnshire Life alerted me to Cadeby Hall, up in the Wolds near Ludborough, on the way to Grimsby.

Even the later 1979 Pevsner gives the place short shrift – “an early C18 stone front of seven bays and 2½ storeys…inside, a good staircase…at the time of writing derelict…”

The inimitable Henry Thorold calls it “the Sleeping Beauty house par excellence”.

When I first saw it in 1968 it was already derelict, with a ‘Danger Keep Out’ notice on the front door.  At the rear a service wing which I then thought to be Victorian but now know to have been eighteenth century had been demolished.  I didn’t attempt to enter.

The Hall is easily visible from a public footpath but it’s not a place you’d come across on your way anywhere.

I found it again driving round north Lincolnshire in 1982, by which time it had been tidied up and was apparently in use as a shooting lodge.

Now, by the magic of Google, I discover that it has been splendidly refurbished with, on the site of the demolished rear wing, a tactful, decorous neo-Georgian extension:  http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/4163107.

I’ve no idea who lives there:  they’re lucky, and we’re lucky that they’ve saved a hidden gem.

Cadeby Hall is a private house.

Big fuss about a little thing

Jubiläumsbrunnen fountain, Wuppertal, Germany

In the German city of Wuppertal, birthplace of aspirin, the town hall, the splendid Rathaus, was opened in 1900 by Kaiser Wilhelm II on the same day as the celebrated Schwebebahn.

In front of it stands the jolly Jubiläumsbrunnen fountain, sculpted by the Düsseldorf sculptor Leo Müsch (1846-1911) to celebrate the silver jubilee of the Elberfelder Verschönerungsverein [the Elberfeld beautification club].

Müsch’s design, 11.5 metres high, carved in red sandstone, is a glorious riot of sea gods and monsters, tritons and mermaids, topped by the figure of Neptune.

Quite what this maritime composition has to do with a landlocked industrial valley in the heart of North Rhine-Westphalia escapes me.

According to the English translation of the Wikipedia article, the inauguration in 1901 caused a stir because “the figures were too much male distinctive”.   

The “form of the anatomically correctly modelled pubic region” caused great offence, and an unknown person or persons took a hammer and chisel to the sculpture.

The community was divided, and strong positions were taken.

The local writer Walter Bloem (1868-1951) wrote a four-act drama The Jubilee Fountain which provoked his pastor to ask him to leave the church.

The City Council eventually resolved to restore Neptune’s masculinity, after a vehement debate about acanthus leaves.

Nevertheless, as the English translation remarks, “the scars are still visible today”.

I didn’t notice anything outstanding when I photographed the fountain. 

When I looked closer at my photograph I recalled the lady who, when annoyed by a flasher in a Marks & Spencer elevator, remarked “Is that it, then?”