Delirium || The Art of the Symbolist Book @ The Morgan Library

Midtown Manhattan may seem too professional, flat, boring, touristy, UN-y, with nothing much moving after hours besides FDNY ladders and Mount Sinai ambulances – sirens full blast, but it has its share of interesting spots. Keep an open mind, look beyond the luxury shop windows of Fifth or Madison Avenues or the Broadway theatre district, and you may be surprised. And quite positively at that.

Take a look inside The Morgan Library, for instance, one of Midtown’s gems both architecturally and as an exhibition space.

What began as an intimate palazzo-like structure intended to serve as the private library of financier Pierpont Morgan, became today’s complex of buildings of different styles, covering half a city block.

Mr. Morgan’s library was designed by Charles Follen McKim and built between 1902 and 1906, next to his residence. Later, as his collections grew, an Annex was added in 1928. More recently, in 1988, Mr. Morgan’s brownstone residence was added to the complex, followed by a garden in 1991, which united the three buildings. And, finally, there came the largest expansion yet with (surprise!) a Renzo Piano steel and glass design creating new spaces and connecting everything together.

The images that follow are from ”Delirium: The Art of the Symbolist Book”, an exhibition that featured works by authors and artists from the Symbolist movement.

Henri Fantin-Latour (1836-1904)
Portrait of Arthur Rimbaud, 1872
Watercolour and white opaque wash over black chalk on paperboard


Odilon Redon (1840-1916)
Centaure lisant, ca. 1885
Charcoal sprayed with fixative on wove paper 


Marcel Schwob (1867-1905)
Georges de Feure, artist (1868-1943)
La porte des rêves

Edgar Allan Poe’s influence on Symbolist literature was most explicit in its prose. In Schwob’s Arachné, a man’s desire to possess his beloved leads him to strangle her to absorb her soul, exhaled in her dying breath. Things backfire. Transformed into a spidery creature, she uses his rope to ensnare him, confining his body and silencing his speech. Schwob’s fiction reflects a coterie of misogyny in the Symbolist movement. These authors explored the sinister artifice and automaton-like qualities of women as femmes fatales. Publisher Octave Uzanne, who relished the movement’s darker side, enlisted de Feure to illustrate Schwob’s fantastic tales for a livre de luxe. The artist’s elaborate ornamental borders, which manifest a stylistic progression from Symbolist decoration to Art Nouveau, were the only elements the writer praised.


Odilon Redon (1840-1916)
L’homme-arbre, ca. 1895
Charcoal and graphite pencil on paper


”Delirium” was but a fraction of what was to be discovered that day. The Morgan and its treasures will monopolize The Humble Fabulist’s upcoming pages. They are totally worth it, I promise!

The Morgan Library & Museum

May 7th, 2017

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