It might not match the magnitude of MoMA or the Guggenheim, yet the Frick Collection is still one of New York City’s biggest art gems. The Frick, located on the Upper East Side, is housed in the erstwhile residence of Henry Clay Frick, which was designed by Thomas Hastings and built shortly before the outbreak of World War I. Not only was Frick a brilliant businessman – playing a major role in the U.S steel and coke industry – he knew his art too. Upon his death in 1919, Frick bequeathed his home, complete with a large collection of paintings, furniture, and other antiquities to the public. Since then, the Frick Collection has swelled by a third, and the building itself, now surrounded by luxury apartments and condominiums, has been extended numerous times, most recently in 2011.
There’s no doubting Frick had impeccable taste; The 16 galleries of the permanent collection are dripping with some of the greatest names in the world of fine art. European paintings include works by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Hans Holbein, John Constable, Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas and Piero della Francesca. Elsewhere, there are sculptures by the likes of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, exquisite tallback chairs, and Ming Dynasty porcelain. Savvy curatorial staff are on hand to discuss displays, while temporary exhibitions are scheduled throughout the year, keeping the collection fresh.
Frick’s manor is ensconced in gorgeous landscaped gardens which bustle in springtime with tulips and water lilies, and are a miraculous oasis in the center of New York. The gardens – one on Fifth Avenue, and a second on 70th Street, near some of the finest Upper East Side apartments and townhouses – allow visitors peaceful places to sit and reflect on the collection. Here, it’s easy to forget you’re in Manhattan altogether.
His art collection is not the only aspect of interest concerning Frick. The man himself was a colorful character (and ruthless businessman). His practice led him to become reviled as the “most hated man in America”, and there was even an assassination attempt on his life by anarchist Alexander Berkman. Books like Henry Clay Frick: The Life of the Perfect Capitalist, and Meet You in Hell offer further insight into the man.
For those who want to learn more about European art, and Frick’s acquisitions in particular, the Frick Art Reference Library on 10 East 71st Street is open Monday through Friday 10am-5pm. It houses an extensive collection of books and photos on European and American art from the 4th to mid-20th century, and is a beautiful environment in which to swot up.
The Frick Collection is on 1 East 70th Street. Admission is $20 for adults, and galleries are open Tuesday through Saturday 10am-6pm and Sundays 11am-5pm.