Born as an accountant’s passion project and expanded into a gargantuan repository of art and historical artifacts, the Frick Collection opened 16 years after its founder’s death in 1919. Located in his own mansion, a structure that was once was the Lenox Library, the collection is Henry Clay Frick’s legacy in museum format. Run by a board of trustees and funded through charitable donations and an endowment by the founder himself, the Frick Collection, primarily a museum that sees families, students, and artists by the thousands per day, also hosts the Frick Art Reference Library and two gardens. The museum, the library, and the gardens are dedicated to New York and the world as a permanently public collection of art.
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Henry Clay Frick’s obsession with art led him to collect hundreds of paintings, sculptures, and decorative furnishings, all for exhibition in the collection. Even after his death, the collection continues to expand; since Frick’s death in 1919, the Trustees for the Frick Collection have acquired over 50 additional paintings through purchases and donations. The Frick Collection today comprises 16 permanent collections of art scattered through the art museum without regard for place or time period, in rejection of the exhibit format and following Frick’s preferred method of displaying his art.
Since the collection does not organize its works at all, it uses individual labeling to identify each work of art for its visitors. In the past, when more space was needed to store and display the art, the museum simply added more rooms, eliminating the need for reorganization. The pieces also rotate between storage and display periodically. For the dedicated art connoisseur, locating masterworks by Vermeer and Fragonard among the rooms of the collection can be a reward in and of itself. Although the permanent collection is in a permanent state of disarray, the collection has hosted temporary exhibitions of Frick’s collection and visiting collections in the Portico Gallery, which cycle in and out based on availability and scheduling. Past visiting exhibitions have included works by Van Gogh, Renoir, and Picasso.
FRICK ART REFERENCE LIBRARY
Founded in 1920 by Helen Frick, Henry Clay Frick’s daughter, the library holds extensive auction and exhibition catalogs and has hosted several art conservation and restoration efforts during its long history. Most notably, it was used as the headquarters for the Committee on the Protection of Cultural Treasures in War Areas during World War II. In a monumental effort to protect monuments and art from becoming collateral damage in the Allied push in Germany, the library closed its doors for the first time for the committee’s work. Their efforts saved many cultural treasures from the war, and the library’s records are still used to this day in provenance research, studies dedicated art ownership history, and in the effort to reunite long-lost works of art to their rightful owners. A library card is required to use the library’s resources, but visitors may enter and tour the library at their leisure.
THE FIFTH AVENUE GARDEN
Visible from the Fragonard Room and the Portico Gallery, the raised Fifth Avenue garden is fully integrated into the aesthetic of the museum, cultivated and filled with greenery and architecture that accentuate the beauty of the galleries within. The Fifth Avenue garden is not open to the general public, but once a year visitors to the annual Garden Party fundraiser event have a special opportunity to enjoy the garden’s lawns, trees, and roses.
The Garden Court at the heart of the museum is a symmetrical renovation made after the collection’s opening. Its Ionic columns and plant beds are the model for the National Gallery of Art in Washington. The Garden Court hosts the Gallery Talks, a lecture available with the purchase of admission and which can accommodate small parties of people.
EVENTS AND EDUCATION
The Music Room of the Frick Collection hosts several concerts per year, and places emphasis on hosting classical and chamber music by small ensembles. Tickets can be purchased online or onsite, and acts cycle in on a roughly monthly basis. Concerts are usually held at around five in the afternoon.
Along with Gallery Talks, Docent Talks are also available with the price of admission; the 10-minute talk is an abbreviated tour of the rooms, artwork, and history of the Frick Collection. Lectures, seminars, and symposiums on visiting art collections are also held at the museum, and the museum keeps detailed records on the history of such events on their website. Art dialogues and conversations about art are usually free and often scheduled throughout the day and after hours, but reservations are required.
For those who want a single day working among the masters, the Wednesday Atelier opens the museum galleries to artists of all skill levels to make still life works of the museum and master copies of the paintings on display. All supplies and admission for a day at the collection are included with the price of the event, and artists may stay in certain galleries after hours to complete their own works of art.
1 East 70th Street, New York, NY 10021, website, Phone: 212-288-0700