May 16, 2010
A Visit to The Frick Collection
One of my favorite places to visit in New York City is the paradisaical Frick Collection located on the Museum Mile section of Fifth Avenue. From the exterior it looks like a large but rather un-remarkable mansion. But just step inside the East 70th Street entrance and you will be amazed at the wealth of art and objects that grace the interior.
The Frick Collection began as the private residence of Pittsburgh based steel and coke magnate Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919). When construction began on the home in 1913 Mr Frick was already a well respected collector of Old Master, Italian Renaissance, English 18th Century portrait and 17th Century Dutch paintings as well as Chinese porcelain and French 18th Century furniture. No expense was spared in creating a showcase for this magnificent collection initially for the private enjoyment of the Frick family but with the long-range vision of leaving the house and its contents to become a public gallery to be known as The Frick Collection. Built at a then-staggering cost of $5,000,000, the institution boasted an endowment of three times that amount to properly fulfill Mr Frick's ideal of "encouraging and developing the study of the fine arts".
With the death of his widow in 1931, Mr Frick's dream of a museum bearing his name could be realized, and, after a scrupulous renovation of the residence to accommodate the visiting public, The Frick Collection opened its doors in 1935. Now, 75 years later, it remains a showcase of collecting and connoisseurship that speaks of a more elegant time.
For me, one of the joys of visiting The Frick is knowing that I will see some old favorites on every visit. Despite temporary exhibitions that occasionally alter the display certain classics remain, no matter what. Like the Fragonard Room with its fantastic panels painted in the 1750s by François Boucher and depicting the Arts and Sciences (see "Poetry and Music", left). In this room we are surrounded by beauty both on the walls and in the furnishings and it is easy to fantasize that one is a visiting guest, dressed in a magnificent silk gown, sipping tea out of Sèvres porcelain cups with a harpsichord playing in the background!
Or step into the Living Hall where a trio of delights includes Hans Holbein the Younger's pensive portrait of "Sir Thomas More", 1527, El Greco's stunning "St Jerome", 1590-1600, and Giovanni Bellini's inspiring "St. Francis in the Desert", 1480. Or the Enamel Room with its gilded icons, the cavernous West Gallery with the immense Turner oils and The Halls by the Garden Court that boast three of the 37 works painted by the Dutch master Johannes Vermeer.
I must confess that I was disappointed not to see my beloved Whistler portraits hanging in the four corners of the East Gallery (they had been put away temporarily to accommodate the Dulwich Picture Gallery exhibition), but that just means I'll have to come back soon! And if you're in the neighborhood, I would urge you to take an hour or so and step back into a different time, a gilded age when an appreciation for fine things was a worthwhile pursuit.