Small Museums in Big Cities: Frick Collection

The Frick Young Fellows Ball 2018


Nicholas Hunt / Staff / Getty Images 

When industrialist Henry Clay Frick moved to New York in 1905, he focused on his art collection and the mansion which would become a public museum after his death. A prime player in the "race for the great masters", Frick amassed an extraordinary collection of decorative arts and paintings including works by Bellini, Titian, Holbein, Goya, Velazquez, Turner, Whistler, and Fragonard.

When the museum opened in 1935, the public was stunned to see the great treasures on display. Frick's nefarious reputation was repaired and today the Frick Collection is one of the world's greatest art museums.

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"St. Francis in Ecstasy", Giovanni Bellini

Saint Francis in Ecstasy
 Public Domain

This oil painting on board is a masterpiece of the Venetian Renaissance. Full of details that unfold the story, the main scene shows Saint Francis of Assisi receiving the stigmata, the wounds of Christ.

The blue-green light cast on the Umbrian landscape may reflect the strange light of a solar eclipse that occurred around the time the painting was made. Look for the tiny piece of paper blown against a scrub tree that bears the artist's signature.

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"Portrait of Comtesse d'Haussonville", Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres

Portrait of Comtesse d'Haussonville
 Public Domain 

The Comtesse was a liberated woman for her day who published books and essays. Though she was married at 18, she was known for independence.

In this 1845 painting, she pulls you so deeply toward her eyes you might not notice the unmade bed in the background. Her composure and silk gown may speak to her aristocratic status, but the sensuality of the back of her neck reflected in the mirror may reveal the artists' true gaze.

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"Nicolaes Ruts", Rembrandt

Nicolaes Ruts
 Public Domain 

The Frick Collection boasts four paintings by Rembrandt among which the most famous is "The Polish Rider". This 1631 painting of Nicolaes Ruts, a merchant who traded furs in Russia, makes the strongest impression. The hand which holds a letter seems to push straight through the dark surface of the canvas. If Dutch art has failed to interest you in the past, this painting may change your view forever.

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"Sir Thomas Moore", Hans Holbein

Sir Thomas More
 Public Domain 

One of the treats of the Frick Collection is the way the paintings were arranged on the walls by Frick himself. This portrait of Sir Thomas More by Hans Holbein in 1527 is directly across the fireplace from his enemy Thomas Cromwell.

The luminous surface and lifelike expression speak to More's integrity. The gold S's on his golden chain are symbolic of his service to the king and reference the motto Souvent me souvenir, or, Think of me often. This painting was among Fricks' most favorite pieces in the collection.

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"Officer and a Laughing Girl", Vermeer

"Officer and a Laughing Girl"
  Public Domain

With only 16 known paintings by Johannes Vermeer, the Frick Collection boasts two. The ethereal light for which Vermeer is so famous falls on the face of a young woman who is deep in conversation with an officer.

A map of the Netherlands hangs on the wall above her. Scholars debate the meaning of this work and if Vermeer employed a camera obscura to create the illusion of depth.  

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