Bryant "Kindred Spirits" letter goes to Morgan Library
last remaining letter found with patron's descendants
Kindred Spirits, 1849 Crystal Bridges Museum
Jonathan Sturges, ca. 1850s
For some 20 years I have researched the remarkable American art patron Jonathan Sturges, working with public and private collections of archival material. I've had the good fortune to become friends with family descendants, who have welcomed me into their homes, offering access to unpublished and previously unknown archival materials. In this way I first became aware of the letter William Cullen Bryant had written to Jonathan Sturges, thanking him for his munificent gift of the iconic painting Kindred Spirits, painted by Asher B. Durand at Sturges's request, as a token of esteem for Bryant's funeral oration for their mutual friend, painter Thomas Cole. The letter had remained in family hands since Sturges's death in 1874; although it had been offered in 1922 as part of a multi-day auction of the library and manuscript collections of Henry Cady Sturges, Jonathan's youngest son, held at the Anderson Galleries in New York City, it was passed and so returned to the family, where it remained until I brokered its sale to the Morgan Library. I offered the letter at least twice to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, figuring that they would be interested in owning such an important document linked with the painting, which was acquired several years ago at an unprecedented price in the tens of millions of dollars. However, there was no interest. From my extensive work on the family's history, I knew that Jonathan Sturges's second daughter, Amelia, was J. P. Morgan's first wife, and the Morgan Library has a significant collection of Sturges archival material. I approached Christine Nelson, their manuscript curator, offering the letter and an album of early Morgan and Sturges photographs, and the sale was transacted. Since the Library already owns the letters Durand wrote to Sturges from Europe in 1840-41, a trip financed by Sturges, and Kindred Spirits was painted in partial discharge of Durand's indebtedness to Sturges, the transaction is highly suitable and satisfactory to all parties concerned.