Thursday, July 9, 2015

An Afternoon at the Frick

I finally got around to visiting the Frick Collection, on the upper east side of Manhattan, this week. It's one of those museums-to-visit-before-you-die places, and it's one that people keep asking me if I've visited, so I figured it was time.

And it was just great.

The museum was the home of Henry Clay Frick, steel magnate and Gilded Age rich guy, and housed his extensive and impressive personal collection. He collected from many eras but nothing violent or dark, and only a portion of his collection is actually on display at any time. The docent said about 30% is on loan and other things are in conservation. I still got to see plenty.

I happened to arrive just before a free gallery talk in the dining room in which the docent discussed not only the Gainsborough portraits that wallpapered the room but the personal habits of the Frick family including lavish dinners and modest family meals at a table that could seat anywhere from 4 to 40. Very "Downton Abbey," and the docent referenced that show more than once to help us understand the lifestyle of the Frick family which included a live-in organist and 26 servants. The library included a section devoted to books on wealth, from the Egyptians to Adam Smith, and the docent told us that Frick believed in the power of books and reading to make a difference in peoples' lives.

The biggest treat for me in terms of art was seeing Renoir's "La Promenade," a painting of two little girls out with their mother or nanny, in which one girl holds a doll resembling the adult woman. I think I've seen that painting before, in Boston at a Renoir exhibit in the 80s, and it was really fun to see it again. I also loved Ingres' "Comtesse d'Haussonville" and the story behind it, about a young independent-minded woman who wrote a biography of an Irish revolutionary as well as candid memoirs of her own, and "Lady Hamilton as 'Nature'" of the then-teenaged girl who would go on to become the lover of Horatio Nelson. It was also fun to see the so-called "Fragonard Room," covered with paintings commissioned, then rejected by, Madame du Barry. Sir Frederic Leighton's "Flaming June" is on special exhibit through September and it was just stunning.

Since I was in the neighborhood I popped into my two favorite upper east side bookstores, Albertine and Crawford and Doyle, and picked up Apocalypse Baby, by Virginie Despentes, which has been nagging at me for a while, from Albertine.

I hope I can come back to the Frick soon!


Carin Siegfried said...

My favorite museum! You really should check out the book Meet You in Hell which is a joint bio of Frick and Carnegie. It's great and while Frick is not a nice guy, I still liked him at the end (Carnegie not so much!)

JoAnn said...

Still haven't made it there yet, but hoping I will this fall! Glad you enjoyed it.