The Frick collection is home to one of the finest collections of European paintings in the United States, showcased in a mansion on Central Park in a domestic interior.
Entering the private collection of Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919) is stepping into an elegant mansion highlighting the wealth and taste of the coke tycoon. Self-made man from Pittsburgh, Henry Frick promised himself to become a millionaire by his thirties, and he succeeded. Partnering with Andrew Carnegie in order to supply his steelworks with coke made him a richer man, but also a hated man in his hometown of Pittsburgh. With a strong position against unions, he broke a strike in 1892 hiring mercenaries. Shortly after, he flees to New York City where he buys a block front on Central Park and builds his mansion in 1913-1914 to live in and showcase his precious cherry-picked paintings by European masters. Already conceived as a museum, the mansion is converted after Frick passes away in 1919, thanks to the transformations of architect John Russel Pope.
Rooms with different colour schemes showcasing paintings from some of the best European schools are organized around the central stylish garden court with its plants and peaceful water fountain. There does not seem to be any specific order amongst the canvases, but the utmost taste for quality and masterpieces: the portraits with elongate and elegant proportions of the Flemish master van Dyck, the palette knife and brush strokes of Constable rendering the atmosphere of a British country landscape so well that the humidity in the air is almost palpable, the typical window of Vermeer through which the delicate light that only the master of Delft can render so well, the commissioned portrait of Nicolaes Ruts who started the reputation of Rembrandt in Amsterdam next to the auto portrait of the prolific and weary old master, the storms and quiet harbours of Turner, the colour harmonies of Velasquez, the stretched out figures of El Greco, the moral allegories of Veronese, the four stages of love by Fragonard fitted perfectly in a room specially dedicated to the French painter, and a few impressionists like Monet, Ingres, Manet, and Degas.
Overlooking the Fifth Avenue and Central Park, Frick’s office is the repository of a stunning early Italian Renaissance collection, and the 16th century enamels of Limoges of Pierpont Morgan. When the rich and powerful banker, doubled as an avid book and manuscript collector passes away in 1913, Frick buys some of his finest art pieces from his son Jack P. Morgan. He immediately makes room for these medieval masterpieces. The enamels show subtle details and bright colours gathering the delicate modelling of oil painting, the rich colours of stained glass and a gleaming luminosity unique to the art of enamelling, contrasting with the darkness of the intimate office.
Henry Clay Frick is amongst the men who built America, along with Carnegie, Ford, J.P. Morgan, Rockefeller and Vanderbilt just to name the most prominent ones. Some of their common characteristics are a strong spirit, an appetence to risk and an innovative approach of men well anchored in their time and envisioning new technologies as opportunities to build the future. While setting the foundations for the future, Frick was fascinated by the old European masters and managed to gather one of the most tasteful collection for the benefit of the public.
- To explore the collection in details and online, visit the official website of the Frick collection.
- The Frick collection is open for free to the public on the first Friday evenings of the month from 6 to 9 (except in January).
- To visit the Frick Collection online, refer to the Google Arts & Culture project.
- We strongly recommend you to also visit the Morgan Library, the NYC mansion of Pierpont Morgan.
- Check out this interactive map (quick tutorial) for the specific details to help you plan your trip and more articles and photos (zoom out) about the area!
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