FRICK COLLECTION: This post is about a private tour of the FRICK COLLECTION at One East 70th Street on Wednesday, May 22nd at 11:30 am. Tickets are $55. and include admission to the Museum and the approximately one hour tour. There are no dining facilities at the Frick but we will query the group to see how many would like to go to lunch (you can return to the Museum afterwards) and ask for a volunteer to coordinate. If the weather cooperates, maybe a brown bag picnic across the street in the Park!
Henry Clay Frick was an archetypal robber baron, son of a gun who made piles of money at the end of the 1800’s when industrial America was booming. He was from and of Western Pennsylvania where, after starting a successful coke-manufacturing operation (used for iron ore), he went on to manufacture steel and build railroads. He, along with other members of Pittsburgh’s steel industry elite, was a founding member of the South Fork Hunting and Fishing Club which was implicated in the catastrophic JOHNSTOWN FLOOD of 1889 (the subject of historian David McCullough’s first book) which swept away the town and killed more than 2000 of its 30,000 residents. Vehemently anti-union, Frick (acting on his own and Andrew Carnegie’s behalf) was also a lead figure in the HOMESTEAD STRIKE of 1892, still one of the most violent union conflicts in US history.
BUT, this controversial, hard-driving, ruthless industrialist was also …. an art collector. The wealth which was generated by the coal deposits and steel manufacturing of Western Pennsylvania was astonishingly vast and offered Frick the means to amass a giant art collection. While he and his family lived for over 20 years in a mansion in Pittsburgh by 1905 Frick’s business and social interests and art collecting opportunities were largely in New York City. It was at that time that he and his wife built their family home at 70th Street and Fifth Avenue, which was a prime commission for architect Thomas Hastings of the well-known classicist architecture firm of Carrere and Hastings.
Over time, Frick created one of the best collections of European paintings in the US, including works from the pre-Renaissance up to post-Impressionism. It also includes collections of porcelain, sculptures and very rare period furniture. Of particular note are five very large J.M. W. Turner works and several by Constable as well. This is an overwhelmingly personal collection of an individual collector presented in a family home. – All very rarified, but personal nonetheless! However, the Museum continued to acquire works and more than half of the current collection was added after Frick’s death.
Frick died in 1919 and willed the house and its contents as a public museum. His widow, Adelaide, continued to live in the house until her death in 1931 and the Museum was opened in 1935. There have been a few additions to the museum, notably in 1977 and in 2011. There is a current expansion plan – the subject of much controversy – which is supposed to break ground next year. The main sticking point by critics of the plan is the possible reduction in the Frick’s gorgeous outdoor spaces which have a devoted following.
Fortunately for those of us who periodically rush down Fifth Avenue on foot, the Frick’s other-worldly and now almost out-of-scale Fifth-facing façade and garden will be maintained. Personally, no matter how late or how rushed, that particular streetscape never fails to stop you in your tracks and take your breath away as you’re reminded of another time in New York. The interior – and the art collection – does very much the same thing. Worth a serious visit, don’t you think?