Considered one of New York City’s greatest treasures, the Morgan Library & Museum showcases manuscripts, art, history, and architecture, and through May 14th, Treasures from the Nationalmuseum of Sweden: The Collections of Count Tessin. An extraordinary group of more than 75 masterpieces are on display while Sweden’s largest and most distinguished art institution is undergoing a major refurbishment.
The current show displays the extraordinary assemblage of Swedish Diplomat Count Carl Gustaf Tessin (1695-1770), which is the core holding of the Nationalmuseum. Tessin, who was a politician, courtier, diplomat, public official, artist, writer, historian, collector, and philosopher, amassed much of his collection of about 2,000 items while he lived in Paris from 1739 until 1742, serving as Sweden’s unofficial ambassador to the French court. Tessin was very much in contact with the best artists of the era from whom he also commissioned works. An elegant, art-buying lifestyle cost the count such a fortune that it left him with major financial problems. By 1749, he was forced to sell 243 of his paintings to King Frederick I, who in turn presented them to Crown Princess Louisa Ulrika, Tessin’s confidant. In 1750, Tessin sold most of his drawings to Louisa Ulrika’s husband, Crown Prince Adolf Frederick. Fortunately, the collection remained in the family’s royal palaces until they moved to the museum in 1866.
Among the artists represented, Italian masters include Domenico Ghirlandaio, Raphael, Giulio Romano, and Annibale Carracci. Northern European artists are represented by Albrecht Dürer, Hendrick Goltzius, Peter Paul Rubens, Rembrandt van Rijn, and Anthony van Dyck. Jacques Callot and Nicholas Poussin, as well as Count Tessin’s French contemporaries Antoine Watteau, François Boucher, and Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin illustrate the accomplishment of 18th-century French art.
In the exhibit, masterwork drawings by Chardin, along with his small oils, illustrate exquisite and emotional interior scenes. The Morning Toilette shows a governess as she prepares a young aristocratic girl for morning mass. One of the most striking paintings is a jubilant and luminous, some say erotic—The Triumph of Venus, c. 1740—one of three paintings commissioned by Count Tessin and exhibited at the 1740 Parisian Salon. A group of paintings of birds, roosters, and animals by Jean-Baptiste Oudry, including The Dachshund Pehr with Dead Game and Rifle, illustrate the way that Tessin, a sophisticated collector, had a wide range of preferential subjects, including his own beloved pet.
Among the 14 paintings in the exhibition is Portrait of Count Carl Gustaf Tessin by Jacques-André-Joseph Aved, which shows the collector among his art, books, and medals.
The Morgan has an important role in preserving and displaying important elements of Western civilization from 4000 B.C. to the twenty-first century. Since 2006, when renowned architect Renzo Piano—who also designed The Whitney downtown—completed the institution’s expansion, visitors enter the Morgan’s light-filled atrium entry and cafe on Madison Avenue. The soaring space links to the grandeur of its original palazzo home on 36thStreet, designed a century earlier by Charles McKim and owned by financier Pierpont Morgan.
The Treasures from the Nationalmuseum of Sweden exhibit was produced with a lead gift from the Michel David-Weill Foundation, with major funding by Gilbert and Ildiko Butler Family Foundation and Jerome L. Greene Foundation, and supported by The Johansson Family Foundation, Katharine J. Rayner, The Christian Humann Foundation, and the Barbro Osher Pro Suecia Foundation. For more information, visit themorgan.org.