Frick-en Awesome!

Yesterday I put on my boots and ventured over to the Upper East Side to visit The Frick Collection, a display of European masterworks in what was once the private home of William Clay Frick.

Born of meager means, Mr. Frick went on to become one of the largest coke producers in Pittsburgh and subsequently one of the richest men of his time. (Frick’s coke was the fuel one burns to melt steel, not the white powder one puts up one’s nose)

With a soft spot for paintings by the old masters, Frick amassed a stunning collection of art with the intention of having his home turned into a museum upon his death. Not officially opening until decades after he shuffled off his mortal coil, The Frick inhabits a building no less beautiful than its art. Forget the anonymous white walls of MoMA and the vitrine-enbalmed objects at The Met, the art at The Frick is displayed in a gloriously decorated domestic setting.

After checking my coat and purchasing a student ticket (only $5 compared to the regular admission price of $18), I picked up one of the free audio tours and meandered down the main hall. I don’t typically like listening to audio tours in museums but The Frick’s dearth of labels, though instrumental in retaining its domestic atmosphere, makes the audio information a necessity.

I passed through several rooms of Italian religious paintings and then rooms paneled in rococo French murals. My favorite is the famous “Progress of Love” series by Fragonard and commissioned Louis XV’s mistress, Madame du Barry. They depict four scenes: childish flirtation, illicit rendezvous, marriage, and serene matrimonial love. Upon their completion Madame du Barry didn’t like them (the Neo-Classical style was in ascendance) and so, many years later, Fragonard added a fifth panel to the rest: a fraught forsaken woman banished by cupid. I guess he was a little bitter.

Moving through the dining room, library, and added galleries, I spied at least five Gainsboroghs, four Turners, three Vermeers, an oddly cropped Manet, several Rembrandts, and always another gloriously beautiful masterpiece on the next wall. Not to mention the furniture! The collection was not curated to educate or merely illustrate various schools of European art; each work was chosen because Mr. Frick thought it was beautiful and his keen aesthetic sense pervades the entire museum.

If The Metropolitan Museum of Art is an overabundant schmorgasboard of works, The Frick is a selective high-end dinner with smaller, richer portions. One gets more of an opportunity to savor pieces at The Frick without the guilt of not having seen everything one meant to see. The museum even has the perfect place to digest one’s feast of art; the Garden Court is one of my favorite spaces in the city.

That said, I wouldn’t go to The Frick with a group of people or spirited youths (children under ten aren’t allowed in). Visiting with one or two like-minded friends might be enjoyable but the atmosphere is definitely one of hushed reverence. And with your ear to the audio tour, there’s little impulse for conversation.

 

The Frick Collection

1 East 70th Street

Tues-Sat: 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

Sundays: 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

$18, adults; $12, senior citizens; $5, students with valid identification.

Children under ten are not admitted to the Collection.

No photography

On Sundays, pay what you wish from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m

Great for contemplation of European Masters, not great for lively discussion

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