The Grolier Club, at 47 East 60th Street, is a bibliophile’s dream. The book-lined walls and the dark-wood rooms may seem like an exclusive retreat for literary elites, but in fact, exhibitons here are open to the public 9-5 Monday through Saturday.
The lucky New York public had the chance this month to catch the radiant “Victorian Connections” exhibition co-curated by Natasha Moore and Mark Samuels Lasner, located discreetly on the second floor of the Grolier Club. Here one found an exuberant collection of rare artefacts from a broad swath of Victorian cultural life. From a presentation copy of William Morris’s Volsunga Saga, to letters, inscribed books, and portraits of other giants such as Alfred Lord Tennyson, Thomas Carlyle, Thomas Hardy, Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning, there was much to marvel over.
The sheer breadth of an exhibition devoted to a minor poet, William Allingham (1824–1889), and his artist wife Helen (née Paterson, 1848–1926), seemed out of place only until the nature of this extrovert couple became more clear. A famous diarist, William Allingham recorded some of the most personal and human anecdotes that survive about Tennyson, Carslyle, Morris, and other Victorian greats. As Mark Samuels Lasner put it in his talk about the exhibition on May 6th, the Allinghams were friends with simply everybody. This exhibition is a testament to the many, many deep connections they made among the literary and artistic circles of London and elsewhere during their lifetimes.
At the exhibition, Pre-Raphaelite fans were delighted with a caricature of love-lorn Dante Gabriel Rossetti following close behind Jane Morris with an armful of cushions for her comfort and his watercolor for the cover of Allingham’s book Day and Night Songs, along with an early self-portrait by Edward Burne-Jones and a sketch of Elizabeth Siddal by Anna Mary Howitt. Victorianists and book lovers of all stripes found something to moon over at this pretty little exhibition; watch the Grolier Club’s website for delights to come.
Sadly, the show ended today. For those who missed it, there is a detailed, illustrated catalogue, $35, available from Oak Knoll Books in New Castle, Del.
(Image: Helen Peterson Allingham. 1840-1926. Study of a Cottage Window, watercolor on paper. From the Baskin Collection.)