Great Collections: Assembling Only the Best: The Pedro Correa do Lago Autograph Collection

Pedro Correa do Lago

Assembling Only the Best:
The Pedro Correa do Lago Autograph Collection

The Magic of Handwriting From June 1 through September 16, 2018, what is considered “one of the most comprehensive autograph collections of our era”* was offered on display at the Morgan Library in New York City. For anyone who missed this once-in-a-lifetime display of some of the most significant pieces of handwritten documents, art, lettering, and notes ever put to paper, have no fear. The accompanying book to this collection, The Magic of Handwriting,* is here to the rescue. The book covers only a small token of this collection that makes autographs turn into great insights into the past.
The collecting of autographs came into fashion because they—the signers—were important to us in one way or another. These collectors were everything from movie star fans to evidence-seekers looking to document history. But the collection of Pedro Correa do Lago goes even further to not only show the finished piece but share the knowledge of what circumstances went into creating it in the first place. Sometimes an item is not the finished piece but the notes and thoughts that went into its creation; a trip into the time and mind of those who worked to define the history of the event or record a memory or describe the stimulus to what has shifted our view to something … more.
During an interview with the BBC, Correa do Lago put it this way, “It’s the moment of creation that is materialized in that piece of paper.”

About Pedro Correa do Lago

Pedro Correa do Lago
Pedro Correa do Lago
Correa do Lago began his life as the son of a Brazilian diplomat working as the country’s ambassador to France. His perchance for collecting signatures started out at the tender age of 11, and from that time to the present day, Correa do Lago has gathered, researched, and expanded his mind from the over 100,000 hand-written or hand-signed documents in his possession. These include music, letters, drawings, official documents, and those things that struck a chord with his collecting aesthetic. His first items were obtained from a period when he chased down artists and writers hoping to build a relationship as a pen pal.
Among his first collecting efforts were letters to JRR Tolkien and Francois Truffaut, asking for their autographs. This was perhaps inspired by a large volume of Who’s Who that rested on his father’s bookshelf at the embassy. The results were not exactly inspiring for a burgeoning collector. Tolkien had stopped sending out autographs because the sheer volume of requests had become too much. From the Truffaut address … crickets. But then, the magic began when he discovered a copy of the book that inspired Truffaut’s film L’Enfant Sauvage, a film recently seen by the young man, that was inscribed by the master, himself. An obsession was born.
As he described it in a 2018 interview with The Guardian,

“He {Truffaut] changed my life. I was so excited, I wrote to lots of people. I would rush home from school to see if Joan Miro, Picasso, Chagall, or Iris Murdoch had sent me a letter.” (All did, apart from Picasso.) Correa do Lago prioritized his eminent addressees by age, to catch them before it was too late. This wasn’t always successful: he received a note from Ezra Pound’s sister, commiserating that his letter had arrived the day the poet died.

 The ignighter to the flame: the signed copy of L’enfant Sauvage sent to Pedro Correa do Lago weeks after he reached out to Truffaut for an autograph. He had also reached out to JRR Tolkien at the same time to no avail, as Tolkien had recently stopped signing autographs due to the volume of requests he was receiving at the time.
The ignighter to the flame: the signed copy of L’enfant Sauvage sent to Pedro Correa do Lago weeks after he reached out to Truffaut for an autograph. He had also reached out to JRR Tolkien at the same time to no avail, as Tolkien had recently stopped signing autographs due to the volume of requests he was receiving at the time.
Letters became the favorite item for Correa do Lago to collect to the point that now he has the world’s largest collection of private correspondence. They occupy a few filing cabinets in his home where he goes to travel through time and visit with these friends. As he puts it, “Every collector feels as if he were a secret final addressee of the letter.”
In total, also according to the BBC, the collection includes tens of thousands of handwritten documents from 5000 of the most important figures in the fields of art, literature, history, science, music and entertainment since 1153.

The Day Job

 
When he is not seeking out and buying for his collection, Correa do Lago deals in contemporary Brazilian art, helping to fund his calling. His work as a curator includes exhibits at the Musee d’Orsay and the Musee du Louvre, where his outlook on art and knowledge of the industry made him well sought-after around the world.
Thanks to his childhood travels with his family throughout Europe and South America, his life has been full of educational experiences. He speaks five languages, holds a master’s degree in economics from the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro, worked as an antiquarian bookseller in Sau Paulo, and acted as Sotheby’s representative in that city from 1986 to 2012. He has written over 20 books primarily focused on his ever-growing catalog raisonne, with titles like Everything So Far or Complete Work (1816-1821).

A Collector Speaks

When hearing Correa do Lago talk about items in his collection, you can’t help but be caught up in what happened in real-time to create each piece, as well as the insight his research and reaction to the item brings forth. For example, here are his thoughts revealed in that same BBC interview on a draft of the opening paragraph of In Search of Lost Time, a 20th century masterpiece.

Proust item is particularly significant for me because it’s really the moment of creation – a paper that bears witness to that incredible moment when he wrote something that is registered on that little piece—torn piece—he followed the torn parts and wrote around it. It’s the first few sentences of arguable the most important novel of the 20th century, In Search of Lost Time.“This Proust item is particularly significant for me because it’s really the moment of creation – a paper that bears witness to that incredible moment when he wrote something that is registered on that little piece—torn piece—he followed the torn parts and wrote around it. It’s the first few sentences of arguable the most important novel of the 20th century, In Search of Lost Time. It’s the idea when he’s half asleep and everything, so it’s a piece of paper that really held an incredible moment of creation, and materialized it.”
“That’s why I’m so moved, because as a collector holding [it] in [my] hands, a paper that bears witness to that incredible moment when he wrote something that millions of people are moved by, is very moving as well.”

Find Out More

At right is what the New York Times called “a charming relic of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s adventures in chirology, or palm reading. He made this impression of his hand in 1935 in the presence of Dr. Charlotte Wolff, who detected “a rare gift of observation” and “love of animals.” The analysis and the print, which Saint-Exupéry signed, was published in a Surrealist journal, along with ones for André Breton, Aldous Huxley and Marcel Duchamp. “That he would sign an impression of his hand is perfect,” Mr. Corrêa do Lago said. This was part of the exhibit The Magic of Handwriting at The Morgan Library and Museum.
What the New York Times called “a charming relic of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s adventures in chirology, or palm reading. He made this impression of his hand in 1935 in the presence of Dr. Charlotte Wolff, who detected “a rare gift of observation” and “love of animals.” 
The book The Magic of Handwriting is a series of essays around the exhibition of the same name held at The Morgan Library and Museum in 2018. It is flush with descriptions that create the world within each piece was created. The book Everything So Far is also available in English, as is Frans Post 1612-1680; Catalogue Raisonne. And a good search on the Internet will also offer more information on this fascinating collector and his collection.