Ventfort Hall: Learn about J.P. Morgan's art collection

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LENOX — Popular professor/historian Francis Morrone will make a visual presentation via Zoom for Ventfort Hall Mansion & Gilded Age Museum's Tuesday Talk on "J. P. Morgan: The Financier as Collector of the Arts."

The virtual event will be held 4 p.m. Tuesday.

J. Pierpont Morgan was the brother of Sarah Spencer Morgan, who, with her husband, George Hale Morgan, built Ventfort Hall in 1893. Not only was J.P. a colossus in the financial and corporate worlds, but he was also the greatest art collector of his age.

His considerable success as a leading financier provided him with a means to amass over a 22-year period a collection of over 20,000 works of art, valued in 1912, a year before his death, at about $60 million and today at $1.6 billion. Whereas Sarah used a portion of her inheritance, received after their father, Junius, died in 1890, to pay for Ventfort Hall, J.P. was able to begin to acquire art on a vast scale.

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The wide range of objects he collected included antiquities, medieval silver gilt and ivories, Renaissance bronzes and Majolica, Renaissance and Baroque silver gilt, ivories and glass, watches and clocks, jewelry, rock crystal and amber, sculpture, miniatures, porcelains, tapestries, Old Master paintings and drawings, books and illuminated manuscripts — and three Gutenberg bibles.

Among the scholarly advisors Morgan consulted was his nephew, Junius Spencer Morgan, the son of George and Sarah. Junius's special interest was rare books, manuscripts and works on paper. By 1902, this particular collection for J.P. had reached 10,000 items and he made the decision to build what was to become the Morgan Library and Museum in New York City to house these acquisitions. It opened in 1906.

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Young Junius introduced his uncle to the Princeton librarian Belle Da Costa Greene, the African-American woman who would become the director of the then named Pierpont Morgan Library and whose life and career will be a subject of the lecture.

During the same time, Morgan, who had been a member of The Metropolitan Museum of Art board, was elected president when it was undergoing a major expansion. Through the years, he was instrumental in donating, loaning and acquiring significant collections for the institution. The museum received 7,000 additional objects after his death. Morgan transformed the Met into the world-class institution it is today.

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Morrone is the author of thirteen books, including architectural guidebooks to Philadelphia and Brooklyn and with Henry Hope Reed, "The New York Public Library: The Architecture and Decoration of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building." Morrone's writings have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the New Criterion, City Journal and the New York Sun, where he was an art and architecture critic.

He teaches architectural and urban history at New York University, and is the recipient of the university's Excellence in Teaching Award. Travel + Leisure magazine named him as one of the 13 best tour guides in the world. He has also received an Arthur Ross Award from the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art.

Tickets for the Morrone lecture are $20 per person. To view him on Zoom, register by going to www.eventbrite.com and searching for Ventfort Hall.

Reservations for viewing him at Ventfort Hall on Zoom are strongly recommended as seating will be strictly limited. For reservations to attend at the mansion call Ventfort Hall at 413-637-3206. Tea cannot be served until further notice due to the coronavirus. The historical mansion is located at 104 Walker Street in Lenox.


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