A Morning at the Frick Collection

| August 15, 2009


90 Degrees and 90 percent humidity was not going to stop me. During the John Taft  plein air workshop I took in June, John mentioned the Frick Collection during one of his lectures and that is was a must see if we were ever in New York City. Having been to Manhattan 40 plus times in the last fifteen years, I knew I would get there, I just did not know when. As fate would have it, while in New York for work related matters this month, a block of time opened up that allowed me to see what the Frick Collection was all about. I was staying at the Intercontinental at 48th and 5th Avenue so it was relatively easy to make the 20-plus block trek to 1 East 70th street to see some great art on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

The Frick Collection hangs in the residence of steel magnate, Henry Clay Frick, who lived from 1849 to 1919. In 1910, Frick purchased property at Fifth Avenue and 70th Street in Manhattan to construct what is now known as The Frick Collection — a mansion with surrounding grounds that cover a full city block. To this day, the Frick Collection is home to one of the finest collections of European paintings in the United States. It contains many works of art dating from the pre-Renaissance up to the post-Impressionist eras. In addition to paintings, it also contains a beautiful exhibition of carpets, porcelain, sculptures, and fine furniture. The Frick Mansion actually reminded me of the Borghese Galleria in Rome. The Borghese, is a relatively quaint (by King Louis standards) but palatial Italian villa and, like the Frick Mansion, is a wonderful example of design and architecture as well as a great place to showcase fine art.

My primary objective was to see Vermeer originals. My interest in Vermeer peaked recently after reading a book that my son Matt bought me for Father’s day. Fortunately, Frick bought three Vermeer works during his lifetime. In fact, Frick’s last acquisition was Vermeer’s Mistress and Maid, c.1666/67, which was acquired in 1919, the last year of Henry Clay Frick‘s life. Once in the mansion, I was pleasantly surprised to find, In addition to Vermeer, the works of Monet, Degas, Rembrandt, Whistler, Bellini, Renoir and many more. I loved the elegant yet intimate setting as I meandered through the various rooms including a very large gallery where much of the art hangs in the same place that Frick himself had it hung. In the West Gallery, the prize of the day for me was Vermeer’s Mistress and Maid, which hung right next to one of Rembrandt’s self portraits. The ambiance of the room was breathtaking. It was filled with large works of monumental importance that were obviously collected with much thought and anticipation. Frick took great pride in reuniting portraits that had been previously separated. A good example of this were portraits of Frans and Margareta Snyders by Sir Anthony Van Dyck. Another high point was Hans Holbien’s Sir Thomas More. It was absolutely amazing and is perhaps the the most captivating portrait that I have seen. From the detailed facial features to the sumptuously rendered velvet sleeves and intricately articulated jewelry, I was mesmerized by the presence of the piece on the wall. If you go to the Frick Collection, remember to pick up a free audio guide as it is very easy to use and certainly amplifies the experience.

A banker friend that I had dinner with the night before said the visiting the Frick was like having afternoon tea in an elegant restaurant. I agree completely as it is a bite sized portion of extraordinary quality. I spent three hours at the Frick and don’t feel like I missed anything. That would be tough to do at the Metropolitan Museum of Art!


Category: Fine Art and Painting, Travel