Saturday, April 11, 2020

Marginalia: The Mysterious Doodles

One of the projects we are hoping to thoroughly undertake when things return to normal is a look through the books owned by the Livingston Family. Even casually browsing the shelves, we can see there are really books for everyone. Several complete works of William Shakespeare. A copy of Jane Eyre. A book of crossword puzzles that has been partially filled in. With about 2,700 volumes, you're sure to find a lot of interesting things.

For example, there is a copy of a book called The Life of Bartolomé E. Murillo that lives in the study. Bartolomé Esteban Murillo was a Spanish painter in the 1600s.  Most of Murillo’s paintings were religious in nature. He has works featuring the Annunciation and the Magi seeing the baby Jesus. He even painted Mary, Joseph, Jesus, and…their dog?
The other side of Murillo’s work was paintings of women and children of his time. His art was lauded for being both realistic and beautiful.

So, the question becomes: Which Livingston might have read this book? Montgomery Livingston, the painter? Alice Livingston, the sculptor? Janet or Honoria Livingston, doing some art history studies?

And the answer seems to be: No one. You see, this particular volume was published in 1819. At that time, printers put the text onto large pieces of paper and then folded them into the pages we are accustomed to seeing. This means that as a book was read, the tops of the folded pages needed to be cut. A glance through this book shows that many of the pages were never separated at all! It would start to appear that this book was purchased purely to adorn the shelves.

But there’s one more twist. We noticed that the front and back inside covers of the book were used, even if the pages inside were not. In exploring this biography, we found sketches done inside the covers. In the front of the book, a bouquet of flowers. In the back, a landscape featuring perhaps a church?

Suddenly, the owner of this book seems pretty clear. Montgomery Livingston lived from 1816-1855. He was the son of Chancellor Livingston’s younger daughter, Margaret Maria, meaning he grew up at New Clermont, The Chancellor’s home on the property (later called Arryl House). As a young man, Montgomery studied art in Europe, particularly Switzerland. He became a prolific, if not terribly profitable landscape painter.

At Clermont, we have several landscapes of Montgomery’s. We would have even more examples of his art if not for the fact that Arryl House, supposedly adorned with murals by the artist, burned in 1909.

That means that this book, almost certainly featuring sketches done by our resident painter, becomes quite a special piece in our collection. It not only provides us with more examples of Montgomery Livingston’s art but I think the idea of doodling is something we can all relate to.


  1. Great detective work! Love this post, how it makes a member of the family come alive in a really relatable way. Wish my doodles were that good!

  2. That's very interesting. It's too bad that Arryl House burned down. I mean, you could buy a book with EVERY intention to read it, and then not quite get to it. Or you could just use the front and pages for doodling. !!!