By March 2020, I had taken only the initial steps in building the exhibition when the Morgan closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With the exhibition slated for the following year, preparations needed to continue so that we would be ready when the museum could again open to the public. The difficulty to overcome was how to work on the Wrightsman bindings without being able to physically lay hands or eyes on them. Wrightsman’s own inventory, an unwieldy 700 pages in five large D-ring binders that included dealer descriptions, collection correspondence, and photographs, provided the foundation for sorting through the literary, historical, artistic, and individual (i.e., provenance) context of the volumes. It was clear that the heart of the collection was formed around the libraries and binders active during the reigns of Louis XIV, Louis XV, and Louis XVI.
The collection revealed several prevalent themes, including women book owners, French book illustration, and the significant role that books played in the preservation and display of court life. The exhibition recurrently showcases the gilt-tooling and mosaic decoration techniques employed by the bookbinding workshops of Augustin Du Seuil, Jean-Charles Lemonnier, Luc-Antoine Boyet, Nicolas-Denis Derome (le Jeune), Pierre-Paul Dubuisson, and many others. The celebration of material decoration is exemplified in the mosaic binding that Jacques-Antoine Derome, father of Nicolas-Denis, produced for Queen Marie Leszczynska. This extraordinary work is on a French psalter printed in 1725, the year Marie married Louis XV, and both the book and binding were fitting gifts for the new queen.