The Frick Collection, New York

New York has so many museums and galleries worth seeing but on my schedule, I could only choose one.  I made a decision to view the Frick Collection as it is housed in the neoclassical mansion the collector built as his home on 5th Avenue.

Part of the mansion fronting 5th Avenue

Part of the mansion fronting 5th Avenue

Henry Clay Frick was born in 1849 in Pennsylvania and was the grandson of Abraham Overholt who owned a prosperous whiskey distillery.  Frick’s father was unsuccessful in his business pursuits but his son Henry had a gift for numbers and was loaded with ambition.  Frick’s education was unremarkable and he only spent one year in college.  His first job was as a shop assistant where he declared he would be a millionaire by the time he was thirty.  

The gates on 70th Street

The gates on 70th Street

In 1871 when he was 21-years old, he, two cousins and a friend formed a partnership and using a beehive oven, turned coal into coke for use in the steel industry.  By 1880 Frick had bought out the partnership and soon the newly formed H C Frick & Company had over a thousand employees and he controlled over 80% of the State’s coal output.  Frick’s goal of becoming a millionaire by the time he was 30 was more than realised.

A view through the gates on 70th Street

A view through the gates on 70th Street

Frick was not popular though with his employees who believed they were being unfairly treated.  In 1892 the workers went on strike which resulted in a riot where around a dozen men were killed and over 70 injured.  More than 2,500 lost their jobs and those who stayed had their wages halved.  The way Frick dealt with his employees made him ‘the most hated man in America’.  Frick decided to move from Pittsburg so they left the family home of Clayton and headed to New York.

The front of the house with Central Park directly across the road

The front of the house with Central Park directly across the road

In New York the family rented the Vanderbilt mansion while Frick looked for a property to purchase.  He eventually found an area of land that was the size of an entire block running between 70th and 71st Streets along 5th Avenue.  After much controversy and public concern, Frick began building his mansion.  Having had a major falling-out with Carnegie who had an impressive home further along 5th Avenue, Frick instructed his architect to make Carnegie’s 64-room home ‘look like a miner’s shack’.

The Frick Gallery is on 5th Avenue and across the road from Central Park

The Frick Gallery is on 5th Avenue and across the road from Central Park

Frick spent over five million dollars on his new home.  All along he intended for it to become an art gallery but he never told his architect.  Frick lived in his mansion for just five years as he died on December 2, 1919.  Only at the time of his death did the public learn that the house and art collection would one day become a museum “for the purpose of encouraging and developing the study of the fine arts, and of advancing the general knowledge of kindred subjects.”

The entrance on 70th Street

The entrance on 70th Street

His will stated his wife could live in the home until her death and so it wasn’t until 1935 that the mansion became a museum showing the impressive artworks Frick had collected during his lifetime.

The courtyard that was once the driveway

The courtyard that was once the driveway

With Frick himself being the sole collector of the artworks, it’s an extremely personal collection and you can see Frick’s taste for landscapes, beautiful women and biblical images dominating the collection.  What makes this collection even more special is that the artworks are displayed in the collector’s home and as you go from room to room viewing the paintings in the living room, Frick’s office, the library and dining room, the collection seems extremely personal.  Despite the feeling inside that Henry Clay Frick has, perhaps, just stepped out for a moment, the museum is not a 1914 home frozen in time, but an ever-expanding, world-class collection.  Frick’s daughter, Helen, added to the collection until her death in 1984 and today there are special exhibitions on loan to the gallery for a period of time.

The courtyard is a tranquil place

The courtyard is a tranquil place

I saw so many artworks I studied at school and had previously only seen photographed in textbooks.  It was a tremendous experience to see these paintings hanging in such an incredible mansion with many having been given their position in the house by the collector himself.  In such an impressive collection it would almost be wrong to choose a favourite but I’m leaning towards a Degas.  I’d never before seen a Degas but having studied French Impressionism for five years, I always hoped there would be that day when I would see before me the movement he is famous for creating in his images.

Sculpture

Sculpture

Frick said, ‘I want this collection to be my monument’.  His will left instructions for his architect to to ‘retain…the present atmosphere of the house’ and avoid ‘the manner of exhibition common in museums.’  Finally, on December 16, 1935, the museum welcomed the public and the public was stunned.  As the New York World Telegram stated, ‘One forgets all about Frick himself, his feud with Carnegie, the strikes, and everything else, and gives one up to this heart-stirring experience.’  Just what Henry Clay Frick wanted. 

There's a frog in the pond

There’s a frog in the pond

The Frick Collection is an art museum located in the Henry Clay Frick House on the Upper East Side in New York City on Fifth Avenue between 70th and 71st Streets.  The gallery is closed on Monday’s.  Admission is $20.00 and you will need more than a few hours to fully appreciate the artworks on display.  

Bust

Bust

The Frick Collection:  1 East 70th Street (between Fifth and Madison Avenues), New York, NY 10021

Phone:  (212) 288 0700

An angel protecting the courtyard

An angel protecting the courtyard

Comments

  1. What a great story! Liz x

  2. Gorgeous museum. I’m curious what the Degas piece was that you liked so much.

    • Hi Marie, it’s called ‘The Rehearsal’ and it originally belonged to Degas’ close friend, Henri Rouart. Frick bought the painting when it came up for sale after Rouart’s death in 1912.

  3. What an amazing place! That stone doorway reminds me of some I’ve seen in Budapest.

  4. Lovely architecture! Great historic info! Thanks for sharing!

    Julie
    Gourmet Getaways

  5. Such a wonderful historic place to visit – the angel just reminds me a little of weeping angels but appreciate it all the same :D

    Cheers
    Choc Chip Uru

  6. I’m so glad you made it here. We enjoyed it too, and like you, found the setting almost as special as the artwork within. It’s lovely that some people have the vision and means to create these kinds of places, which benefit generations beyond them.

  7. Isn’t it wonderful to see art and sculpture displayed as the original owner did. The Isabella Gardner museum in Boston is the same way.

  8. What a fascinating place! And I wonder how much $5million then would equate to now? A lot I presume!

  9. I didn’t know the story of Frick or the museum. Thanks for sharing! I love getting to see works of art in person after only knowing them from photos. Sounds like a lovely visit!

  10. What an interesting post Charlie, love the history behind this building, can’t help but wonder what it would cost to build the same building in today’s time.

  11. Charlie – The Frick would be a highlight of any trip to the city [we live a few hours north and west], and I am particularly fond of homes that are made into art museums. It has been many years since I visited there & I think it may be time again!

  12. I didn’t know about the his story or the museum. What a great story! And I’m amazed at how much you were able to fit in and enjoy on your quick trip to NYC!

  13. I’ve so been enjoying your posts about New York. Your writing style makes me feel like I was right there with you. Thanks for taking the time to share all this!

  14. Nice post, Charlie. I haven’t been to the Frick in years, heading usually for several days in a row at the Metropolitan instead. Sooooo many good museums…so little time. You made a good choice.

  15. OMG, I am roaring with laughter! No wonder Vicki Challancin and I get along – again she has been ahead of me and ‘pinched’ my comment-to-be. Yes, when in NY I seem to ‘live’ at the Metropolitan also but I DO love the Frick . . . . when in the Big Apple one does get torn apart as far as time goes :) ! Absolutely love your photo series here . . . will ‘leave’ work early and come back and scroll some more!!!! By the bye hope you have had a chance to look at Vicki’s blog today: oops, quite a lesson for me how many ways one can use preserved lemons :) !!!!

  16. What a lovely place Charlie, definitely not as sterile or souless as many museums are. I’m glad you got to see some of the gorgeous pieces from your text books :) xox

  17. Some friend’s of ours told us that if we were only going to one gallery this had to be it. Such a beautiful house and collection. How wonderful for someone to have such a vision.

  18. So interesting! I had no idea Frick had such a colorful history. Sounds like he was a man who knew what he wanted and would stop at nothing to get it.

  19. Believe it or not…I have never heard of Frick’s museaum. This goes into my bucket list to visit when we visit NY next….beautiful post Charlie.

  20. The Frick Gallery is my favorite NYC museum an impressive collection indeed.

  21. what a great post, perfect for those who cant make it there just yet!

  22. This is by far, my favourite gallery/museum in NYC. I go almost every time I visit NY!

  23. Loving your take on New York and that it has to offer, Charlie! Thanks so much for sharing your experience with us! xo

  24. That’s a lovely story about Henry Clay Frick…and even though he sounds like a horrible harsh man when it comes to business I think he had a heart for art and wanted to had plans for the mansion to become an art gallery.

    What happened to his business afterwards? Did someone take over :) So interesting! Definitely on my list next time!

  25. what an incredible man he must have been. obviously he loved art but not his fellow humans so much. one of these days i will get here. :)

  26. This might be my favorite art museum in the world. Not the best or certainly most extensive, but a fun, quirky, excellent collection of art in an interesting (amazing, really) setting. Glad you had a chance to see this — such a great place to visit.

  27. Beautifully written, Charlie. It’s like i was there.

  28. Holy smokes, you are an epic travellor Miss Charlie, dang you fit a lot into your adventure to NYC. I didn’t know about this story or the museum. Awesome! Love the angel protecting the courtyard, we have an angel in our yard doing the same thing too.
    Happy Monday. xoxo

  29. What a place! I love that his home was turned into a museum rather than moving it out to a museum. I’m sure you learned a lot about the person through the pieces he chose and the places he displayed them. Enjoy the post a lot!

Trackbacks

  1. […] walking back from The Frick Collection 0n our last day in New York, I walked along 5th Avenue and suddenly saw Otto Pizzeria.  I realised […]

Speak Your Mind

*