“Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus—in which a chemistry student makes a living being out of corpses—has compelled our attention since it was first published in 1818. This exhibition explores its adaptability to stage and screen, its sources in Gothic art and Enlightenment science, and the haunted life of its creator. Frankenstein’s author was the daughter of celebrated writers and the partner of another. She too became famous in 1823, when the story was staged in London, with the monster portrayed by an expressive pantomime actor. Audiences loved it. More than a dozen other theatrical productions appeared, followed by the first film version, less than a century after the novel. James Whale’s 1931 film made Boris Karloff the face of Frankenstein for generations of viewers, and versions in other media— comic books, illustrations, prints, and posters—testify that Mary Shelley’s ‘hideous progeny’ is very much alive. Enter these galleries to meet the monster.” — Introductory Wall Text
William Blake (1757 – 1827), Europe: a Prophecy, London: Printed by Will. Blake, 1794. The Morgan Library & Museum, gift of Mrs. Landon K. Thorne, 1972; PML 77235.1. Photography by Janny Chiu.
Joseph Wright (1734 – 1797), The Alchymist, in Search of the Philosopher’s Stone, Discovers Phosphorus, and Prays for the Successful Conclusion of his Operation, as was the Custom of the Ancient Chymical Astrologers, 1795, oil on canvas, Derby Museums Trust. Photography by Richard Tailby.
Benoît Pecheux, plate no. 4 in Giovanni Aldini, Essai théorique et expérimental sur le galvanisme, Paris: De l’imprimerie de Fournier Fils, 1804. The Morgan Library & Museum, purchased on the Gordon N. Ray Fund, 2016; PML 196238. Photography by Janny Chiu.
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (1797 – 1851), Frankenstein, manuscript, MS. Abinger c.56, fols. 20v – 21r, 1816 – 1817. The Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford.
Lyceum Theatre (London, England), This evening, Monday, July 28th, 1823, will be produced (for the first time) an entirely new romance of a peculiar interest, entitled Presumption! or, the Fate of Frankenstein, [London: s.n., 1823]. The Morgan Library & Museum, purchased on the Gordon N. Ray Fund, 2015; PML 196172, Photography by Janny Chiu.
Jean-François Vilain, Théâtre de la Porte St. Martin, Le monstre, acte premier, scène dernière, ca. 1826, color lithograph. Département des Arts du spectacle—Bibliothèque nationale de France.
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (1797 – 1851), Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, London: Printed for Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor & Jones, 1818. The Carl H. Pforzheimer Collection of Shelley and His Circle, The Morgan Library & Museum, purchased by Pierpont Morgan in 1910. Photography by Janny Chiu.
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (1797 – 1851), Frankenstein, or, The Modern Prometheus, London: Henry Colburn and Richard Bentley, 1831. The Morgan Library & Museum; PML 58778. Photography by Janny Chiu.
Auguste Pontenier, wood engraving in Louis Figuier, Les merveilles de la science, ou Description populaire des inventions modernes, Paris: Furne, Jouvet et cie,  – 1870. The Morgan Library & Museum, purchased on the Gordon N. Ray Fund, 2016; PML 196256. Photography by Janny Chiu.
Carl Laemmle Presents Frankenstein: the Man who Made a Monster, lithograph poster, 1931. Collection of Stephen Fishler, comicconnect.com, Courtesy of Universal Studios Licensing LLC, © 1931 Univeral Pictures Company, Inc.
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (1797 – 1851), Frankenstein, or, the Modern Prometheus, New York: Grosset and Dunlap, . The Morgan Library & Museum, purchased on the Gordon N. Ray Fund, 2016; PML 196478. Courtesy of Universal Studios Licensing LLC, © 1931 Univeral Pictures Company, Inc. Photography by Janny Chiu.
Lynd Ward (1905 – 1985), The Monster and Victor Frankenstein Encounter Each Other in the Swiss Alps, in a Field of Ice The Newly Created Monster Tries to Get into Victor Frankenstein’s Bed, proof wood engravings for illustrations in Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, New York: Harrison Smith and Robert Haas, 1934. Eberly Family Special Collections Library, Pennsylvania State University Libraries, Permission of Robin Ward Savage and Nanda Weedon Ward.
Dick Briefer (1915 – 1980), Frankenstein, no. 10, New York: Prize Comics, Nov.-Dec., 1947. From the Collection of Craig Yoe and Clizia Gussoni. © First Classics, Inc. Used with permission granted by Trajectory, Inc.
Bernie Wrightson (1948 – 2017), Frankenstein, or, The modern Prometheus. [New York, NY]: Published by Tyrannosaurus Press, 1977. The Morgan Library & Museum, purchased on the Gordon N. Ray Fund, 2017; PML 197644 © 2018 Bernie Wrightson / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
Barry Moser, No Father Had Watched my Infant Days, wood engraving in a suite of prints accompanying Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, West Hatfield, MA: Pennyroyal Press, 1983. The Morgan Library & Museum, gift of Jeffrey P. Dwyer; PML 127245.6 © Pennyroyal Press
“The Morgan is in an excellent position to tell the rich story of Mary Shelley’s life and of Frankenstein’s evolution in popular culture,” said director of the museum, Colin B. Bailey. “Pierpont Morgan was fascinated by the creative process, and one of the artifacts he acquired was a first edition Frankenstein annotated by the author. The collection of works by the Shelleys, both at the Morgan and the New York Public Library, has only grown since then. We are very pleased to collaborate with the NYPL in presenting the full version of this extraordinary tale and how it lives on in the most resilient and timely of ways.”
It’s Alive! Frankenstein at 200 is a collaboration between the Morgan Library & Museum and The New York Public Library. It is co-curated by John Bidwell, the Astor Curator and Department Head of the Morgan’s Printed Books and Bindings Department, and Elizabeth Denlinger, Curator of the Carl H. Pforzheimer Collection of Shelley and His Circle at The New York Public Library.
Images courtesy The Morgan Library & Museum