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Monday, May 25, 2009


I lucked out in securing a seat on Monroe (NY) Library's tour of the Frick Collection and Waldorf Astoria Hotel. This is my second trip with them, thanks to my friend Susan. In trips, this library is batting 1000.

Our coach dropped us off on Fifth Avenue and 70th Street outside Henry Clay Frick's former residence and home to his personal collection of some of the world's finest art. Every work was for his personal enjoyment and bought with his steel magnate's wealth or acquired after the death of John Pierpont Morgan in 1913. The collection was generously left by him for the rest of us to enjoy.

When we enter the building, we view a movie giving us the history of this mansion built in 1913 and 1914. It's an excellent introduction because today will be a unique art experience.

The Frick is not called a museum; rather it is called a collection. As we tour, we enter the rooms as Frick decorated them. There are large, overstuffed chairs so he could come downstairs, sit comfortably and find peace contemplating, admiring, and enjoying his art. Frick's daughter, Helen Clay Frick, said her father selected “pictures pleasant to live with.” The collection is almost totally devoid of violence. His choices are overwhelmingly landscapes and portraits. The placement of the paintings, furniture, sculpture, and other pieces remain, for the most part, as he left them. We enter the world Frick loved, and we feel his presence as we tour.

We have individual audio tours, and they're very necessary. Not only are the paintings explained but also the subjects—people or places—thereby opening up even greater avenues of exposure to knowledge and understanding. I cannot call the individual rooms galleries as I might in a museum. Here we are visitors in a home, but a home where, very often, the rooms are thematically decorated.

To share an idea of Frick’s incredible wealth, one might go into a single room and view an early El Greco, Velasquez’s portrait of King Phillip IV of Spain, Vermeer’s “Mistress and Maid,” a Goya, a Turner, and a Rembrandt. It’s hard to imagine.

The only American artists in Frick’s collection are Whistler and Gilbert Stuart. He acquired Stuart’s portrait of Washington. Frick was interested in history, and this painting was a sign of his patriotism.

One of my favorite paintings was Whistler’s “Symphony in Gray and Green: The Ocean.” I can see how one can sit and enjoy its peaceful ocean blues.
Frick’s favorites were Rembrandt’s self-portrait, Bellini’s “St. Francis in the Desert,” and a portrait of Sir Thomas Moore.

The unique look into Frick's mind can be seen in one room where we view a Van Dyck painting and a Gainsborough painted in homage to Van Dyke. The audio tour examines the two paintings and explains them. Our tour becomes an art course. It’s absolutely wonderful. At the Frick, Van Dyck is the most displayed artist with eight portraits.

I love the Impressionists, and I view Renoir’s magnificent “Mother and Daughter” which was first exhibited in the 2nd Impressionist Exhibition. It was held privately until the Frick Collection opened. It’s a new world for me.
If you visit the Frick Collection, give yourself plenty of time. In addition to the art, the mansion is magnificent. Did I tell you that what was once Frick’s courtyard is now and indoor garden that is beyond beautiful? Ah, the way some people live.
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