New Museum Exhibition Shows Off Rare Handwritten Letters From History’s Most Famous Figures
There’s something special about seeing the handwriting of one of your heroes. Just ask anyone who has gotten a celebrity’s autograph. The unique power a signature holds is at the center of an upcoming exhibition at the Morgan Library and Museum in New York City, The Magic of Handwriting: The Pedro Corrêa do Lago Collection.
As part of the display, the museum features drawings, signed photos, and rare letters from figures throughout history—from line drawings Michelangelo used to order marble for the facade of a basilica he was contracted to build in Florence to a previously unpublished, signed photo of Rasputin.
The materials on display are just part of the collection of Pedro Corrêa do Lago, a Brazilian art historian and author who started writing to prominent celebrities when he was 12 years old, asking for their autographs. Over the next 50 years, he assembled a massive collection of autographs, manuscripts, and other handwritten materials that date back to 1140. The 140 items on display at the Morgan make up just a tiny fraction of the 100,000 autographs he owns.
The items are divided up into several different categories: art, history, literature, science, music, and entertainment. Many of them have never been shown before in a public exhibition.
The exhibition includes treasures like a 12th century papal bull signed by four different medieval popes (three were cardinals at the time of signing) and a Catholic saint, Guarinus of Palestrina. There are documents and letters signed by royalty, including Richard III and Elizabeth I of England and Mary, Queen of Scots; there is a rare letter from Leon Trotsky to Frida Kahlo, written as the two were ending their affair; and an autographed draft of a letter Jean-Paul Sartre wrote to the Swedish Academy in 1964, asking them not to give him the Nobel Prize (they awarded it to him anyway). There is a draft of a poem William Butler Yeats wrote on the back of a letter, and a signed mathematical manuscript from Albert Einstein.
Below is a handwritten bill for 20 therapy sessions with Sigmund Freud. Freud charged American neurologist Roy Grinker 100 Austrian schillings per hour, or the equivalent of $20 or $25 at that time, for psychoanalysis sessions.
Artist René Magritte sent this letter to photographer and filmmaker Francis Lee, suggesting Lee make use of the sequence of drawings included (of a man removing his gloves, hat, and head) in a film:
This is one of two surviving letters from Oscar Wilde to Bram Stoker. Wilde wanted Stoker, who worked at London’s Lyceum Theatre, to set aside a ticket for him that night:
This draft of the opening of Swann's Way differs slightly from what Proust eventually published. Notably, it doesn't include what would become the first sentence: “For a long time I used to go to bed early."
The Magic of Handwriting: The Pedro Corrêa do Lago Collection will run from June 1 to September 16, 2018 at the Morgan Library and Museum in New York City.