The Frick Collection is an art museum located in the Henry Clay Frick House on the Upper East Side in Manhattan, New York City at 1 East 70th Street, at the northeast corner with Fifth Avenue. It houses the collection of industrialist Henry Clay Frick (1849–1919). The Frick Collection. Internationally recognized as a premier museum and research center, the Frick is known for its distinguished Old Master paintings and outstanding examples of European sculpture and decorative arts.
The Frick Collection was founded by Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919), the Pittsburgh coke and steel industrialist. At his death, Mr. Frick bequeathed his New York residence and the most outstanding of his many artworks to establish a public gallery for the purpose of “encouraging and developing the study of the fine arts.” Chief among his bequests, which also included sculpture, drawings, prints, and decorative arts such as furniture, porcelains, enamels, rugs, and silver, were one hundred thirty-one paintings. The Frick Collection now houses a permanent collection of more than 1,100 works of art from the Renaissance to the late nineteenth century.
The collection was assembled by the Pittsburgh industrialist Henry Clay Frick (1849–1919) and is housed in his former residence on Fifth Avenue. One of New York City’s few remaining Gilded Age mansions, it provides a tranquil environment for visitors to experience masterpieces by artists such as Bellini, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Gainsborough, Goya, and Whistler. The museum opened in 1935 and has continued to acquire works of art since Mr. Frick’s death.
Adjacent to the museum is the Frick Art Reference Library, founded in 1920 by Helen Clay Frick as a memorial to her father. Today it is one of the leading institutions for research in the fields of art history and collecting.
Along with special exhibitions and an acclaimed concert series, the Frick offers a wide range of lectures, symposia, and education programs that foster a deeper appreciation of its permanent collection.
The Frick Collection includes superb examples of Italian paintings and bronzes, Dutch seventeenth-century works of art, Limoges enamels, English eighteenth-century portraits, French eighteenth-century paintings and furniture, nineteenth-century paintings and Chinese porcelains. Artists represented in the Collection include Rembrandt van Rijn, Giovanni Bellini, El Greco, Frans Hals, Johannes Vermeer, Francis Boucher, Thomas Gainsborough, Joshua Reynolds, Joseph Mallord William Turner, James McNeill Whistler, Francesco Laurana, Jean-Antoine Houdon, and Severo Calzetta da Ravenna.
The Frick Collection’s mission is: To preserve and display for the public the Collection, and to augment its holdings in fields established by Henry Clay Frick, reflecting the uncompromising levels of quality that he embraced, and maintaining the historic tranquility of Mr. Frick’s house.
To provide access, understanding, and enjoyment of the Collection to the public through special exhibitions, publications, education, research, and public programs of the highest caliber.
To offer a singular and memorable experience for the visiting public, providing an engaging view of life in the Gilded Age.
To serve as a center for research and to stimulate scholarship in the history of art, and the history of collecting works of art in the Western tradition, from the fourth to the mid-twentieth centuries.
Henry Frick started his substantial art collection as soon as he started amassing his fortunes. A considerable amount of his art collection is located in his former residence “Clayton” in Pittsburgh, which is today a part of the Frick Art & Historical Center. Another part was given by his daughter and heiress Helen to the Frick Fine Arts Building, which is on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh.
The family did not permanently move from Pittsburgh to New York until 1905. Henry Frick initially leased the Vanderbilt house at 640 Fifth Avenue, to which he moved a substantial amount of his collection. He had his permanent residence built between 1912 and 1914 by Thomas Hastings of Carrère and Hastings. He stayed in the house until his death in 1919. He willed the house and all of its contents, including art, furniture, and decorative objects, as a public museum. His widow Adelaide Howard Childs Frick, however, retained the right of residence and continued living in the mansion with her daughter Helen. After Adelaide Frick died in 1931, the conversion of the house into a public museum started.
John Russell Pope altered and enlarged the building in the early 1930s to adapt it to use as a public institution. It opened to the public on December 16, 1935. Various additions to the architecture and landscape architecture of the museum site have been considered over the years including the placement of a prominent magnolia garden from the 1930s. As stated by the museum announcements: “As a result of a decision of the Board of Trustees in 1939, three magnolias were selected for the Fifth Avenue garden. The two trees on the lower tier are Saucer Magnolias (Magnolia soulangeana) and the species on the upper tier by the flagpole is a Star Magnolia (Magnolia stellata).”
Further expansions of the museum took place in 1977 and in 2011. In 2014, the museum announced further expansion plans, but came up against community opposition because it would result in the loss of a garden. The Frick ultimately dropped those plans and is said to be considering other options.
The Frick is one of the pre-eminent small art museums in the United States, with a high-quality collection of old master paintings and fine furniture housed in six galleries within the former residence. Frick had intended the mansion to eventually become a museum. Many of the paintings are still arranged according to Frick’s design. Besides its permanent collection, the Frick has always organized small, focused temporary exhibitions.
The collection features some of the best-known paintings by major European artists, as well as numerous works of sculpture and porcelain. It also has 18th century French furniture, Limoges enamel, and Oriental rugs. After Frick’s death, his daughter, Helen Clay Frick, expanded the collection, with a third of its artworks acquired since 1919. Although the museum cannot lend the two-thirds that belonged to Frick, as stipulated in his will, the Frick Collection does lend artworks and objects acquired since his death.
Included in the collection are Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s masterpiece The Progress of Love, three paintings by Johannes Vermeer including Mistress and Maid, two paintings by Jacob van Ruisdael including Quay at Amsterdam, and Piero della Francesca’s St. John the Evangelist.
The Frick Collection oversees the nearby Frick Art Reference Library. The collections held at the library focus on art of the Western tradition from the fourth century to the mid-twentieth century, and chiefly include information about paintings, drawings, sculpture, prints, and illuminated manuscripts. Archival materials augment its research collections. Opened in 1920, the library quickly became a prime resource for students.