The Frick Collection presented a selection of five masterpieces of European painting from the highly acclaimed Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California. The exhibition, on view in the Oval Room from February 10 through May 10, 2009, afforded New York and East Coast audiences the occasion to see superb masterworks from the collections of the Norton Simon Art Foundation and The Norton Simon Foundation, a very special opportunity as both institutions generally do not allow their works to travel. The five featured paintings included Jacopo Bassano's (Jacopo da Ponte, 1510–92) Flight into Egypt, c. 1544–45; Peter Paul Rubens' (1577–1640) Holy Women at the Sepulchre, c. 1611–14; Guercino's (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, 1591–1666) Aldrovandi Dog, c. 1625; Francisco de Zurbarán's (1598–1664) Still Life with Lemons, Oranges and a Rose, 1633; and Bartolomé Esteban Murillo's (1617–82) Birth of Saint John the Baptist, c. 1655. None of these artists is represented in the Frick's collection, and the outstanding quality of each of these Old Master paintings made them well suited to be viewed in the company of the Frick's works.
The project was organized by Colin B. Bailey, Peter Jay Sharp Chief Curator of The Frick Collection, and Carol Togneri, Chief Curator of the Norton Simon Museum, with Margaret Iacono, Assistant Curator of the Frick. This exhibition marked the beginning of a series of reciprocal loan exchanges between the two institutions.
Masterpieces of European Painting from the Norton Simon Museum follows in the Frick tradition of presenting important Old Master paintings from American institutions that are less accessible to the New York public. Previous projects in this series have been: Masterpieces from The Cleveland Museum of Art (November 2006–January 2007); Masterworks from The Toledo Museum of Art (October 2002–January 5, 2003), and In Pursuit of Quality: 25 Years of Collecting Old Masters, Paintings from The Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth (November 1989–January 1990).
Norton Simon (1907–93) was a pioneering entrepreneur whose enormous wealth derived from numerous business ventures ranging from the creation of a sheet metal distribution company and the triumphant revival of Hunt Foods, Inc. to the eventual formation of Norton Simon Inc., a multiindustry conglomerate that included Hunt-Wesson Foods, McCall's Publishing, Max Factor cosmetics, and Avis Car Rental. Simon's focus turned to art in the 1950s, and in the same intelligent and strategic manner employed to forge his business empire he amassed an art collection of great renown. Like the museum collection of Henry Clay Frick, whom Simon admired enormously and whose museum was used as a model for his own, Simon's evolved as his tastes did. His first acquisitions were Impressionist and post-Impressionist works by such recognized masters as Degas, Renoir, Gauguin, and Cézanne. In the 1960s he began acquiring Old Masters and Modern works, choosing to sell many of his acclaimed French Impressionist paintings at the decade's close; in the 1970s Simon's appreciation for Indian and Southeast Asian art emerged and was reflected in his burgeoning collection. Today the Norton Simon collections consist of Western and Asian art spanning more than 2,000 years and contain paintings, sculpture, works on paper, and photography.
The exhibition was accompanied by a fully illustrated publication with an essay by Sara Campbell, Senior Curator, the Norton Simon Museum, as well as in-depth catalogue entries by Margaret Iacono, Assistant Curator, The Frick Collection. The softcover publication is available in the Museum Shop of the Frick, and by phone (212-288-0700).