NYC Explorer: The FRICK – Madison

On this edition of American Nomad we’re going to explore The Frick Collection – one of the finest collection of Old Masters paintings in the United States and beyond.

Art lovers MUST and I repeat MUST VISIT The Frick while in New York. I was blown away by the collection of Renaissance to Dutch and French and English art masters. From Duccio and Van Eyck to Rembrandt and Van Dyck; Boucher to Fragonard, Monet to Renoir and more. This collection provides the perfect assortment of high art in an accessible venue.

The Frick is currently being housed at The Breuer Building on Madison Avenue until late 2024, as The FRICK Mansion on Fifth Avenue is being renovated (keep reading to learn more).

History of The Frick Collection:

  • About founder Henry Clay Frick and his Gilded Age Mansion
  • Founded by industrialist Henry Clay Frick, The Frick first opened to the public in 1935.
  • Frick was born into a Mennonite family on December, 19,1849 in rural southwestern Pennsylvania. His perents were immigrant farmers of modest origin. Frick was ambitious, starting his career as a salesman in Pittsburgh before eventually getting involved in the coal industry.
  • He lived in Pittsburgh’s affluent Homewood section after his marriage to Adelaide Howard Childs in an eleven room home. This home in Pittsburgh is now home to the Frick Art & Historical Center (Pittsburgh)
  • His successes in Pittsburgh soured after a series of disagreements with his partner Carnegie…Frick’s role in the infamous Homestead Strike led him to be hated in Pittsburgh.
  • Ready for a fresh start, he took his wealth to New York and purchased a vast amount of land on Fifth Avenue, where he built a stunning gilded era mansion
  • Frick had always admired art and had an eye for fine quality craftsmanship. While in Pittsburgh he began collecting works by Pennsylvania artists that fit the aesthetic of his Pittsburgh home.
    • In New York, Frick decided to pursue the hunt for The Old Masters. Frick was not afraid to purchase the art he liked and appreciated. His eye for quality and ideal of finding art to fit the space of his Fifth Avenue mansion was tantamount.
    • He loved French, Dutch and English masters – especially portraits. His collection of Van Dyck is one of the best in the world. He ironically did not seek The Renaissance artists, that instead was a passion of his daughter Helen.
    • Frick always intended to leave his mansion and collection as a museum. He was mindful wih every purchase in his collection.
  • After his wife’s death in 1931, The Frick Mansion was slightly remodeled (by John Russell Pope – who designed The National Gallery in Washington) for public viewing.
  • Frick’s daughter, Helen continued to be active in the museum until her death. Helen expanded the collection to include Renaissance masters including Bellini and Duccio
  • Learn more about Frick and his interesting life here.

The Frick Mansion is currently undergoing a major renovation and the house will not be open again until late 2024 (at the earliest). You can learn about the renovation here.

The Frick Madison…

Instead of allowing this amazing collection of art to be hidden in storage during the renovation, The Frick has a temporary and equally stunning home on Madison Avenue.

The Frick Madision is housed in The Breuer Building – a thoughtful modern industrial style space that was home to The Whitney Museum for nearly fifty years. When The Whitney Museum of American Art relocated in 2014, the museum space was taken over by The Metropolitan Museum of Art as a satellite location (Met Breuer)

In 2020, the pandemic and other factors led The Met to close The Breuer installation, giving The Frick access to the museum space during their remodel.

Quick Facts about The Breuer Building:

  • Completed in 1966, the granite-clad building on Madison Avenue was once home to The Whitney Museum of Art. It is the only building in NYC designed by Bauhaus-trained architect and designer Marcel Breuer.
  • Breuer’s building defies gravity by turning traditional architecture upside down. The inverted building form with signature angled windows, embodies minimalism, harmony and elegance. Learn more here.

The more I travel to art museums, the more I discover the importance of good architecture and space in the museum. Just because a building looks ‘cool’ and ‘modern’ doesn’t mean it will complement the art and interactive museum experience.

Sometimes industrial buildings leave you cold, especially when viewing Old Masters that are defined by deep, rich colors and detail – verus modern installations that fit into concrete and stone spaces.

Other important factors are essential in displaying art as well – lighting and hanging styles of art in complimentary ways to evoke the viewer in wonder and contemplation.

I bring this up because The Breuer Building is completely different in style and tone than The Frick Mansion and yet the staff has done an AMAZING job with The FRICK Madison. Moving the art into a completely different space also gives it an ability to be seen in a new light and perspective.

The Breuer Building, though industrial – is also engineered for light. The gallery space puts the focus on the artwork and provides perfect lighting for The Frick Collection.

The Collection Highlights

The Frick Collection has over 1500 works of art. Given the space limitations The Frick Madison is curated to highlight the best of The Frick’s collection, while also giving new life to works by Fragonard that have not been on public view for some time (given space considerations at The Frick Mansion)

The Frick Madison highlights are displayed according to geographic and chronological divisions. Download Frick Madison map here.

Northern European Masters:

We’ll start our tour on the second floor, where you’ll be introduced to masterworks by Northern European Masters.

*Photography is not allowed at The Frick, so I’ve linked to the website or used Creative Common Media. This is for educational purposes.

Artists on Second Floor

  • Van Eyck – one of my favorite painters (we discussed his Annuciation in our DC Explorer tour of The National Gallery in Washington). The Frick Collection includes the beautiful Virgin and Child with St. Barbara, St. Elizabeth and Jan Vos. This is something known as ‘Saints and Donor’ and ‘Sacred Conversation,’ – where saints from different eras are in the same painting have a ‘sacred conversation.’
    • Fun fact: Van Eyck is one of the first artists to use oil paints, which results in luminous works of color and light and brilliant colors and detail.
  • Rembrandt: The most famous of the painters active in 17th-century Amsterdam. Learn more about Rembrandt here. The Frick is home to one of Rembrandt’s most iconic self-portraits, as well as his renowned The Polish Rider.
    • The Polish Rider shows Rembrandt’s mastery of light and dark and movement in this action scene. It is one of my favorite Rembrandt’s because you feel as though you are in the scene. The artist’s ability to create depth and movement in the horse and rider is stunning. I started at it for twenty minutes, noticing the nuances
    • My favorite Rembrandt’s at The Frick were his detailed etchings depicting the life of Christ. As a faithful person, I often connect with God through art and imaging myself in the biblical narrative. Rembrandt’s detail is perfect, but there is a supernatural vein here too -the light seems to come to life on the page. I was in AWE of the etchings.
  • Frans Hals
  • Hans Holbein
  • Memling
  • Hobbema
  • Ruysdael
  • Van Dyck – Anthony Van Dyck is one of the premier portrait painters to emerge from Northern Europe, he eventually went to England and influenced the famous master British painter Joshua Reynolds. The Frick Madision has eight Van Dyck portraits together in one room.
  • *Vermeer* – Sadly I did not see The Frick’s 3 Vermeer paintings as they are currently in the Netherlands for an AMAZING once in a lifetime Vermeer exhibit. I will look for them when I return in the future.
  • Barbet Angel

As you continue to the THIRD FLOOR, you’ll be introduced to Italian Renaissance works from the great masters including Duccio (pre/early Renaissance) and Bellini’s St. Francis

  • I LOVE Renaissance art and have taken several courses on Duccio and Bellini – seeing their work at The Frick was awe inspiring.

Selection of artists featured on third floor:

  • Duccio: The temptation of Jesus shows the kingdoms of Italy in the distance as the devil offers CHRIST the world. Renaissance art was often religious – challenging the viewer to meditate on The Gospel and connect with God’s message. Many could not read and art opened The Gospel and morality themes in an beautiful way.
  • Bellini – St. Francis in the Desert is considered by many to be Bellini’s masterpiece. It is a painting that is full of light and depth as St. Francis encounters God (unseen, but visible in the immense light in the painting) in the desert
  • Titian – Venetian master’s portraits are rich in depth and lifelike
  • Veronese – another master of Venetian art
  • Bronzino

This floor also has an rich collection of china and tapestries

The Fourth Floor is a sensory delight of color, story telling and a movement towards Impressionism.

William Frick was a lover of French Rococco artists like Fragonard, whose sumptuous dreamlike scenes fit perfectly in The Frick Mansion. However a few pieces of the original Fragonard set have been locked in storage at The Frick in the past because the wall space was not sufficient to showcase the entire series.

The Frick Madison has amended this – with Fragonard’s entire ‘Progress of Love’ now on display

Also in this wing, you can explore the different seasons in a Boucher series.

My favorite pieces in the pre-Impressionism French art at The Frick were by Chardin, whose still lives are so realistic and invite you into the scene.

The British masters are in full view from Reynolds to Lawrence to Gainsborough and Romney.

Romney’s portrait of Lady Hamilton has a rich history. The subject was the mistress of famed General Lord Horatio Nelson who died at The Battle of Trafalgar. She was a controversial figure and subject of That Hamilton Woman (movie) with Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier.

The Whistler Room took my breath away…

James McNeill Whistler was an American-born, British-based artist who traveled widely – Japanese prints inspired his own signature – a butterfly monogram

Whistler’s portraits at The Frick showcase his ability to capture the personality and enigma of each person behind the portrait. Click here for an example.

Impressionism…While Frick primarily focused on Old Masters, Baroque, Rococco and portraitists, the collection shines with several gorgeous impressionism works by Monet, Renoir and Manet.

In many ways, Manet is considered a father of Impressionism given his early shift from traditional to a more fluid style. The Frick’s Manet is Spanish influenced. Manet traveled in Spain (he was French), and Spanish master Velasquez certainly impacted his perspective

I hope you’ve enjoyed our brief tour of The Frick, before we go let’s stop for a ‘virtual’ coffee at their basement coffee shop, SisterYard. The cafe has delicious treats (gluten free included) and the perfect cup of coffee after a relaxing day at the museum.

Next, we are heading to The MOMA for a Starry Night.

  • I will be launching my Travel and Art themed podcast soon – more details to come!

Leave a Reply