Helen Clay Frick

Portrait of Helen Clay Frick with pet dog "Brownie," 1893

Portrait of Adelaide Frick and daughter Helen Clay Frick, 1901

Helen Clay Frick and traveling companions during a trip out west, 1903

Helen Clay Frick in Belgium, 1920

Helen Clay Frick, 1939

Helen Clay Frick (1888–1984) was the daughter of industrialist and art collector Henry Clay Frick and his wife, Adelaide Howard Childs Frick. Born at Clayton, the Frick family residence in Pittsburgh, her early education took place at home under the tutelage of Swiss governess Marika Ogiz. In 1905, Henry Clay Frick relocated his family to the Vanderbilt mansion at 640 Fifth Avenue in New York, and Helen Clay Frick enrolled at Miss Spence's School for Girls, graduating in 1908. She made her debut into society in Pittsburgh later that same year.

From an early age, Helen Clay Frick expressed an interest in art, and she created an early two-volume catalogue of her father's collection from 1909 to 1910. She traveled abroad frequently with her family and maintained detailed diaries from several of these trips, noting visits to galleries, museums, and historical sites. She was also interested in photography and kept a visual record of her travels through scrapbooks and photograph albums.

As an adult, Helen Clay Frick was engaged largely in philanthropic endeavors and the study of art history. In 1909, she founded the Iron Rail Vacation Home in Wenham, Mass., which served as a retreat for girls who worked in the textile mills outside of Boston. During World War I, she was very active in war relief efforts, and in 1917, she sailed to France to assist the Red Cross in the repatriation of refugees.

After the death of her father in 1919, Helen Clay Frick focused her attention on The Frick Collection, the museum comprised of Henry Clay Frick's New York residence and art collection which had been established by his will. Along with her mother and her brother, Childs Frick, Helen Clay Frick served as a founding trustee of the Collection and was instrumental in guiding the museum's early acquisitions. In 1920, she established the Frick Art Reference Library in New York as a memorial to her father and as a public resource for those with an interest in art history. She served as Director of the Library from its inception until shortly before her death.

Outside of New York, Helen Clay Frick worked with officials at the University of Pittsburgh to create an academic department in art history, which was founded in 1926. In the 1960s, she provided funds to construct the Henry Clay Frick Fine Arts Building to house the department and its library. Subsequent disagreements with the University, however, compelled her to withdraw her support, and in 1970, she built the Frick Art Museum on the grounds at Clayton to house her personal art collection. Helen Clay Frick never married and had no children. She died at Clayton in 1984.