It has been a while since I’ve had any art on the blog! Visiting The Frick Collection was definitely one of the highlights of my trip to New York. The collection is located on Fifth Avenue, across the road from Central Park, in the mansion of industrialist and art collector Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919). The collection opened to the public in 1935 and visiting it is a wonderful experience, as it is still designed to look like the Fricks’ home. It is a Gilded Age mansion, and the richly decorated interior complements the artworks perfectly. Objects from the silver collection and the decorative arts collection are also on display, giving a sense of the domestic life of this mansion. There are no cordons or barriers, making for a very intimate and very relaxed atmosphere. The fact photographs cannot be taken (except in the Sculpture Garden) also adds to this sense of calm. I think it also encourages visitors to look at the paintings and enjoy the experience of seeing the works in person.
The museum is small enough, which really gives the visitor the chance to enjoy the works on display, and it is easy to cover the collection in a single visit, unlike some of the larger art institutions in New York! The Boucher room is beautifully laid out, with works on the theme of the Arts and Sciences – they have such subjects as Painting and Sculpture, Poetry and Music and Architecture and Chemistry. The paintings are oil on canvas, but appear like wall paintings. In another room there are four beautiful paintings by Boucher depicting the seasons. He uses a woman as an allegory to represent each season, winter wears a cloak and a muffler and is seated in a sleigh. As well as wonderful 18th century paintings like these, the collection features much 18th century French furniture. I enjoyed the juxtaposition of paintings and sculptures with decorative arts throughout the museum.
Among the Impressionist works on display is La Promenade by Renoir. Visually similar to Les Parapluies, this work depicts a governess out walking with two young girls. Renoir’s light feathery brushwork is distinctive in one of his many depictions of the Parisian bourgeoisie. Another Impressionist work I enjoyed seeing was Degas’ The Rehearsal. One of the artist’s many depictions of dancers this painting shows a group of ballerinas practising, with a violinist playing in the foreground.
The Sculpture Garden in the centre of the Frick is beautiful; the statuary, fountain and greenery making a very calm space. In this garden, and really in the Frick in general, it is easy to forget you are in such a busy city!
Seeing the three Vermeers in The Frick Collection was definitely a highlight of my visit. Mistress and Maid (the last painting purchased by Henry Clay Frick) reminds me of Woman Writing a Letter with Her Maid, the Vermeer in the National Gallery of Ireland. Letter writing is a frequent theme in Vermeer’s work, and indeed in Dutch genre scenes of this era. This work also shows Vermeer’s fascination with light – in the reflections captured in pearls, glass and silverware. There is also an ambiguity so often found in Vermeer’s work, as we wonder about the contents of the letter. Officer and Laughing Girl also features subtle storytelling. It seems that the girl is entertaining a suitor, and the map on the wall hints to the officer’s profession and his travels. The setting is familiar from other works – it is Vermeer’s studio. Having written an essay on Girl Interrupted at Her Music, I was delighted to see it in person. The theme of music is also prominent in Vermeer’s work, featuring in 12 of his paintings. There are many interpretations of this painting – the man may be the girl’s music teacher, or her suitor ready to partake in a duet with her. However, the empty chair and the way the girl gazes out of the painting could suggest that she is waiting for someone to arrive.
I would highly recommend a visit to the Frick Collection. With its opulent interiors, fascinating collection and very calm atmosphere, it has been one of my favourite galleries. Find out more about the collection here.