The only thing better than a visit to the beautiful home of the late Henry Clay Frick is a chance to see the enormous collection of Old Master paintings within the Frick Collection museum.
The Henry Clay Frick House is one of the few mansions in New York City remaining from the Gilded Age of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Frick amassed his wealth as chairman for Carnegie Steel Company, a position that allowed him to invest in a massive art collection. Upon his death, Frick willed the house and its contents as a museum to the public.
Throughout the house, furniture from Frick’s home is scattered about, adding to the grandiose layout of the museum. Furniture on display includes 20th century pieces like chairs and tables as well as older items, like an 18th century oak veneered and bronze gilded longcase regulator clock, numerous extravagant commodes and built-in bookshelves housing hundreds of beautiful, old leather-bound books.
Frick’s collection includes masterpieces by numerous famous artists, including Rembrandt, Goya, Monet, Bellini, Degas, El Greco — you name an artist, and the museum is bound to have at least one piece.
I particularly enjoyed seeing Joseph Mallord William Turner’s “Cologne: The Arrival of a Packet-Boat: Evening.” Turner wonderfully displays Cologne in front of a sunset with beautiful colors and precision. I also was enamored by Monet’s “Vétheuil in Winter,” a piece in a collection of Monet’s paintings of Vétheuil in all seasons painted from the Seine and riverbanks. This winter piece shows the cold blues of winter and highlights the ice on the banks of the Seine.
Until May 17th, the Frick Collection is housing an exhibition that I would highly recommend, “Coypel’s Don Quixote Tapestries: Illustrating a Spanish Novel in Eighteenth-Century France.”
Charles-Antoine Coypel, painter for Louis XV, painted 28 illustrations to Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra’s “Don Quixote,” to be made into tapestries for the King to present as gifts to rulers of other nations. On view at the Frick are five original Coypel paintings and eighteen prints and books, coupled with three original manufactured tapestries from Gobelin’s in Paris and two Finnish Coypel-inspired tapestries, allowing all 28 illustrations to be represented in the exhibit.
Cervantes’s “Don Quixote” is already a comedic work, outlining the antics of Don Quixote, who seeks to bring justice to the world with the help of his squire Sancho Panza. Don Quixote’s active imagination from reading far too many books about chivalry results in countless strange adventures, including an early attack on giants that turn out to be windmills. Don Quixote’s endeavors often leave Panza to clean up his mess, like when Don Quixote refuses to pay for their stay at an inn, leaving Panza behind to be literally thrown out by other inn guests.
Coypel’s illustrations bring some of Cervantes’s depictions of the reckless and unknowingly hilarious Don Quixote to life. One of my favorite pieces at the exhibit is the engraving of Don Quixote sitting proudly atop his horse with what appears to be a helmet on his head, titled “Don Quixote Mistakes the Basin of a Barber for the Helmet of a Mambrino.” The titles of Coypel’s pieces enlighten the viewer of the absurdity of Don Quixote and are the crux of comedic understanding in the collection.
Of course, the tapestries, too, are beautiful in their own respect, especially the 12 by 13 foot Gobelin tapestries. These wool and silk pieces are astoundingly vibrant and feature extravagant alentour borders.
I also found the titles of some sculptures in the main collection of the Frick unintentionally funny. One such sculpture is Riccio’s “Naked Youth with Raised Left Arm,” featuring a — you guessed it — naked man with his left arm raised. The hilarity of this title (which, upon reflection, may not actually seem funny to anyone other than me) was compounded when I took time to look at the piece for a few minutes and I started imagining that the man was dancing.
Although I enjoyed looking at many pieces in the Fritz, there were some parts of the Collection that I found, to be frank, quite boring. There were many portraits of aristocrats that felt like unnecessary filler pieces, which also compounded the overwhelming sentiment that the museum is for the use of wealthy white patrons.
Overall, I think that it’s worth it to find time to visit the Frick, and would recommend it to anyone looking for a way to spend an hour or two in the City. It may not be as large and famous as the Met, MoMA or the Guggenheim, but the Frick packs in a lot of great art in the space.
Unfortunately, visiting the Collection is not free—student ticket price (with ID) is $10, but I recommend visiting during pay-as-you-wish hours on Sundays from 11 to 1. Included in admission prices is access to the audio tour with six languages, which I highly suggest, because most pieces in the museum are not labeled with information about the work other than artist and title.
Photography is prohibited in the Collection, with the exception of the Garden Court. Be sure to look out of the west-facing windows of the house for beautiful views of Central Park.