I have been so busy attending concerts, lectures and various programs at The Morgan, I never thought about the Library. But, when I started to focus on The Morgan, I realized the immense treasures the J. P. Morgan’s Private Library contains. In fact, I found it overwhelming.
J. P. Morgan was the most powerful American banker of his day who, at an early age, had an abiding passion for art. He was born into a well-to-do New England family, studied in Europe, spoke French and German.
Over the years, he assembled medieval manuscripts, old prints; drawings by Dürer, Michelangelo, Ruben and Rembrandt; hand-written sheet music by Beethoven and Mozart, three Gutenberg Bibles, a copy of the original Declaration of Independence, among many other items.
To house his ever growing collection, Morgan commissioned a Renaissance-style palazzo to be built. The interior of the building is richly decorated, with a multicolored rotunda which leads to three public rooms, which were originally Morgan’s private study, the librarian’s office, and the library itself.
He died in Rome, in 1913 at the age of 75, leaving his library to the public.
Since its incorporation as a public institution, the library has grown to occupy half a city block, including the adjacent brownstone, which belonged to Morgan’s son, J.P. Morgan, Jr.
In 2006, the Italian architect, Renzo Piano, undertook an extensive renovation which almost doubled the exhibition space. A soaring, glass enclosed central court connects the various galleries, and serves as a gathering place around the café. On Fridays when the museum stays open late; a Jazz band plays in the court yard.
The current exhibit, on loan from the Nationalmuseum of Sweden, features the collection of the politician and art-lover Count Tessin. After he accepted the Swedish ambassadorship to the court of Louis XV, he embarked on a binge of collection, commissioning, and buying vast numbers of paintings and prints.
In keeping with the museum’s practice to enhance each exhibition to the fullest, the Museum has joined forces with Scandinavia House, located around the corner on Park Ave. Since I have traveled extensively in Scandinavia, I am delighted because I almost feel at home.
In contrast to the Swedish 18th century Swedish bon vivant, the exhibit on the 2nd floor gallery, features “The Life and Poetry” of the 19th century enigmatic American writer, Emily Dickinson. Most of her manuscripts, photographs and portraits only came to light after her death in 1886. In fact, the real impact as a writer is only fully acknowledged today.
The Morgan Restaurant and Café
A Reuben with a Rembrandt
This time my culinary endeavor gets off to a shaky start. Having invited a friend for lunch on a Sunday, I discover that on the weekend, the restaurant has the same brunch menu as the café. Since we don’t care for formality, we move a few steps down to the café, sit down at an empty table and order
The Pierpont Salad
The salad contains chicken, bacon, Vermont cheddar, White Northern beans, and cherry tomatoes. The “Thick-cut Brown Sugar Bacon” is excellent, but the “grilled chicken” is over-cooked. Over-cooking chicken seems to be common. Maybe most people like it this way. The Honey-Dijon-Dressing is tops. Chef Rodolfo Contreras obviously has a knack for salad dressing
This time I have made an early restaurant reservation for myself. Only one other table is occupied. I order the Spiced Grilled Shrimp, after the waiter assures me that it is not particularly spicy. Gradually the place fills up. Nobody seems in a hurry. Some people just chat; others have a glass of wine, champagne, or bottled water. And while I am starved and ask for bread and butter, they haven’t even looked at the menu.
After waiting for nearly half-an-hour for my order, I get restless and wonder what happened.
“Soon,” promises the waiter.
I am glad I waited. The dish is a symphony of color: the light green avocado, chunks of red tomato, off white onion, somber green cilantro, the faintly pink shrimp, the flower-like affilla cress, are beautifully arranged. Wish I could take a picture. The shrimp are cooked à la minute. The dish is sheer perfection!
It finally dawns on me that, while this is a one-time visit for me, most clients are familiar with the restaurant and are here because of the food. I envision enjoying a Reuben sandwich while looking at a Rembrandt.
Prompted by the current National Swedish exhibit, the menu offers a Swedish prix fix special. I decide to get my Swedish fix at smörgäs Chef, Scandinavia House’s restaurant. I meet a friend mid-week. The restaurant is packed. It is located on the main floor, close to the entrance. There is a constant flow of people passing by, most likely from the upstairs show rooms and offices.
Before I even look at the menu, I know that I’ll have the Herring Quartet appetizer, served with fingerling potatoes and Knäckebrod. As a child I used to exchange my chocolate bar for a herring and preferred Knäckebrod to a roll. My friend sticks to Cucumber Soup and Pan-seared Salmon. I follow with their Classic Smörgäsbord. The Smörgäsbord isn’t all that classic. For that you’ll have to wait till Christmas when the restaurant serves the traditional Julbord, (literally Christmas table). Meanwhile I enjoy the Swedish meatballs and the lingonberries. Service is efficient, albeit a bit rushed. I prefer to come in the early evening, maybe before a concert or movie, sit at the bar counter, order an appetizer and have a glass of wine.
Beginning to suffer from my usual blog withdrawal, I decide to sneak in a late weekend brunch at the Morgan Café.
This time, I order The Morgan Cheeseburger.
“Medium rare,” I say hoping that at least it won’t be overcooked. Again, there is a fairly long wait and I finally understand why. The kitchen is two flights down from the main floor! It is to the chef’s and his teams’ credit that they manage to sent up the various orders of so many guests at all.
I am curious about the dish the couple on the adjacent table is sharing. “It’s The Morgan Tea,” they tell me, pointing to the tier that holds finger sandwiches, deviled eggs, clotted cream, and sweet cakes. On another table, a man is busy sketching. There is a constant turn-over of tables. The hostess helps setting them up for the next customers.
My burger arrives, covered with melted white cheddar, accompanied by lettuce, tomato, herbed fries and two different salad dressings. I take a bite. The burger is cooked medium rare!
Wish I lived nearby.