Banker & Chinese Porcelain Collector
Not only was J.P. Morgan one of the most commanding economic figures of his age, he also developed into a voracious art collector and patron. Morgan spent the last decades of his life - particularly from the 1890s - adding art and antiques to his impressive and legendary collection. His collecting fields were diverse and comprehensive, comprising paintings, books, sculptures, furniture and significant works of art from around the world. During the last two decades of his life he spent a massive $60 million acquiring art, about $900 million by today’s standards.
Even though Oriental art was not his primary focus, he built his impressive Chinese ceramics collection, using his keen eye and personal intuition. He acquired most his porcelain by buying entire collections, often with the help of the legendary dealers Duveen Brothers. One such large collection was that of James A. Garland - one of the finest collections in existence at that time - comprising over a thousand Kangxi (1662-1722) period blue and white and enamelled porcelains. The collection, which Garland had acquired via Henry Duveen in New York, was on loan to the then recently established Metropolitan Museum until his demise in 1902. The entire collection was then re-acquired by Duveen for $500,000 and Morgan went on to purchase it for $600,000. He commissioned Duveen to fill in any gaps, to make it even more complete. Another collection Morgan acquired in 1910 was that of the wealthy Marsden J. Perry (1850-1935).
Morgan's confidence in dealing with art dealers is captured in an anecdote. On one particular visit to his Madison Avenue mansion he presented the Duveens with five Kangxi vases declaring that two of them were fakes. Without hesitation the elder Joseph Joel Duveen raised is cane and smashed two of the vases, explaining that if he were mistaken, he'd reimburse Morgan for the loss. Duveen had been correct, and the astonished J. P. Morgan was both relieved and impressed.
Morgan self-published the first catalogue of his collection in 1904 and circulated it privately. The second revised edition of the catalogue was a single volume, edited by William Laffan, with Stephen Bushell, was published by the Metropolitan Museum in 1907.
To the grave disappointment of the Metropolitan Museum, after Morgan’s death in 1913, his son J.P. Morgan Jr (Jack), decided to sell the collection back to Henry Duveen for $3 million in 1915. This was partly to meet his father’s cash bequests and New York state inheritance tax. Duveen went on to sell the pieces to J.D. Rockefeller, Henry Clay Frick and P.A.B. Widener in the course of 1916 for $3,350,000.