The Art Angle Podcast: The Black Art Visionary Who Secretly Built the Morgan Library

This week, we explore the life of Belle da Costa Greene, the Black visionary who headed the Morgan Library and Museum.

Belle da Costa Greene.

Welcome to the Art Angle, a podcast from Artnet News that delves into the places where the art world meets the real world, bringing each week’s biggest story down to earth. Join us every week for an in-depth look at what matters most in museums, the art market, and much more with input from our own writers and editors, as well as artists, curators, and other top experts in the field.

It’s Black History Month, and we wanted to take the opportunity to devote this episode to the story of a Black museum leader.

We know that people of color have historically been excluded from positions of power in the mainstream art world, but that’s not the full story. In many cases, Black people were present, only their contributions were not properly recorded or acknowledged.

What if you were told that one of the most famous museums in America was in fact headed by a Black visionary? That’s the case with the Morgan Library and Museum in New York City, which was founded in 1906 to house the collection of the legendary Wall Street tycoon John Pierpont Morgan. 

That collection was amassed and overseen by Belle da Costa Greene, a brilliant scholar and bon vivant, who we now know was Black, and passed as white for her entire adult life.

So, how did that happen, and who was Belle da Costa Greene, the woman who built Morgan’s peerless collection, which includes renowned illuminated medieval manuscripts, three Gutenberg Bibles, original scores by Beethoven, Mozart, and Chopin, and prints and drawings by Leonardo and other Renaissance artists? 

To find out, we spoke with Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray, the authors of The Personal Librarian, a sensational novel about Belle’s life, on this week’s episode.


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