Arts

It’s Alive! The Morgan Reanimates a Classic

New Exhibit Celebrates 200 Years of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”

By: Lauren Silverman

A lithograph poster from the 1931 “Frankenstein” film. (Credit: themorgan.org)

Despite the number of fictional creatures that have haunted our TV screens and terrorized the pages in our books, few have stood the test of time quite like Frankenstein’s Monster.

The Morgan Library & Museum has collaborated with The New York Public Library to create an exhibit honoring Mary Shelley, the author of “Frankenstein” and exploring the ways in which the legendary monster has appeared in every corner of pop culture.

The Morgan exhibit, titled “It’s Alive! Frankenstein at 200,” provides an in-depth look at “Frankenstein” from the birth of Mary Shelley to the modern day. The exhibit’s uniqueness comes from both its subject matter and presentation; it contains artifacts and curiosities across all artistic mediums.

The exhibit is split into two separate rooms, one of which has a sharper focus on historical context and relevant artwork, such as paintings and drawings. The other room explores the journey of “Frankenstein” into modern media, most notably cinema.

Among the notable artworks in the first room, Henry Fuseli’s “The Nightmare” stands out the most. The painting depicts a distressed-looking woman laying down, while two demons haunt her, one sitting on her chest and the other gazing from afar.

The painting is said to have influenced the famous “Frankenstein” scene in which Victor Frankenstein finds his wife murdered in bed.

The book was adapted into plays not long after its release, in which it became especially popular in London and Paris. A lithograph by Nathaniel Whittock depicts one such stage rendition. A souvenir fan from one of the productions is also on display.

The second room is more media-focused and houses a variety of iconic pop culture memorabilia.

One of the most poignant pieces is a torso model of Robert De Niro from the 1994 “Frankenstein” film. Used as a reference by the makeup artists, the model has a frighteningly-realistic appearance, from its textured skin to its glossy eyes.

The “Bride of Frankenstein” is the star of several displays as well. A recreation of actress Elsa Lanchester’s bride wig shows the beautiful chestnut color that was lost in the black-and-white movie.

Lanchester was well known for her role as the monster’s bride in  “Bride of Frankenstein”, where she wore an iconic concial wig with white lightening bolts on the sides.

Visitors can read a bit about the production and can even watch short clips on nearby screens.

Several movie posters show the evolution of the“Frankenstein” film adaptations, from the original 1931 version to amusing spin-offs, such as “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein” and “Frankenstein Conquers the World”.

Perhaps the most bone-chilling display is a glass case containing handwritten pages by Shelley herself.

While the notes are enough to excite any history buff, the mysterious, ash-like fragments sitting next to it are even more interesting. According to Atlas Obscura, they are “purported” to be skull fragments of Shelley’s husband, Percy.

The exhibit as a whole studies the major themes of “Frankenstein”, including innocence, morality, and the battle of good versus evil.

While the original novel presented the monster as a victim in some respects, later adaptations took liberties that, in some cases, stripped away the original meaning of the book.

When “Frankenstein” was first published in 1818, Mary Shelley was 21 years old. Originally titled “Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus”, it is considered the first-ever science fiction novel.

“It’s Alive! Frankenstein at 200” runs at the Morgan until January 27, 2019. The museum offers a special $13 rate for students with a valid ID.  

Come swing by this informative and insightful exhibit. You might learn some new facts and influences behind the making of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” and see some props from the numerous “Frankenstein” films.

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