The Magic of Handwriting - A Collection of Letters & Autographs at The Morgan
On May 31st, I had the distinct pleasure to hear Pedro Corrêa do Lago talk about his absolutely stunningly magnificent collection of letters and autographs, selected pieces of which are currently on display at The Morgan.
In his conversation with the curator of the exhibit, Christine Nelson, Corrêa de Lago proved himself to be a charming gentleman, whose passion for the handwritten word could not be more obvious.
"Letters hold emotions and solve problems."
A native of Brazil, he began collecting autographs aged 11, while accompanying his father on a diplomatic posting to Belgium. His brother collected coins, and his mother had a painful memory of stamp-collecting, so those were out. The literary, political, creative, and scientific landscape of Europe in the 1960s offered many interesting figures to approach, and he fondly recalls coming home from school wondering if Agatha Christie had responded to his written enquiry.
"Picasso didn't - but now my letter is in his collection."
While Corrêa do Lago doesn't believe in graphology, he stressed that many of his prized possessions reveal the emotional state of mind of the person at the time of writing, and that really, it's the content that matters. One only has to look at the energy all over Puccini's note sheet, or the slanted print of Emily Dickinson's hand as she writes:
"To be remembered is next to being loved, and to be loved is Heaven, and is this quite Earth? I have never found it so."
For instance, a letter by Van Gogh written to his former landlord first sold at auction for a trivial amount to a different collector. However, it is moving in that it describes the contents of his room in Arles, and he asks for the mattress to be sent emptied of straw, since it would be cheaper to add new straw than have its weight increase the price of shipping. The letter is particularly poignant as it was written shortly before the painter's suicide.
It's these additional details that made the conversation so fascinating, and that will give visitors to the exhibit, open from June 1st to September 16th, 2018, a glimpse into world's gone by, or as the collector himself puts it, insights into "the panorama of Western culture of the last 500 years."
Looking back on 50 years of collecting autographs and handwritten specimen, Corrêa do Lago concludes that the pursuit of his passion has taught him to read and learn more about which individuals to add to his collection, and yes, it has influenced his own way of writing. He says the pleasure of collecting has enhanced his life; he was never bored, and he always dreams of the next thing. One of those dreams would be a signature of the Bard, William Shakespeare, only six of which exist in the world.
I am sincerely grateful for his generous spirit in sharing his collection, and if you like handwriting and letters, the museum is also organizing two more gallery talks on June 8th and July 6th, as well as two letter-writing evenings on June 15th and July 20th. Tickets and more details here.