December 8, 2020
This month, we are celebrating The Frick Collection’s 85th anniversary, commemorating the museum’s opening to the public in December 1935. In honor of this milestone, explore a list of surprising Frick facts—one for each of our eighty-five years—and put your Frick knowledge to the test!
- Jean-Honoré Fragonard's Progress of Love panels were rejected by Madame du Barry, King Louis XV’s mistress. They resided in Grasse, France, for about a century before being sold.
- All fourteen paintings in Fragonard’s series will be shown together, for the first time since the Frick acquired them, next year at our temporary home, Frick Madison.
- The Frick has only three still lifes in its collection, all acquired after Henry Clay Frick's lifetime.
- The Frick has one of the most important collections of European timepieces in the United States.
- The largest gift in the museum's history is a group of about 450 portrait medals from Stephen K. and Janie Woo Scher.
- Some of the Frick's most iconic works were never seen by Henry Clay Frick, including Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres's Comtesse d'Haussonville (1845), purchased in 1927, eight years after Frick’s death.
- The Frick’s celebrated early Italian works of art—including paintings by Cimabue, Duccio, and Piero della Francesca—were largely acquired under the guidance of Henry Clay Frick’s daughter, Helen.
- Just last year, in 2019, an extremely rare panel by Cimabue, The Mocking of Christ, was found in a Frenchwoman’s kitchen. The painting is believed to have been part of the same devotional work as the Frick’s Flagellation of Christ (ca. 1280).
- Queen Marie-Antoinette of France commissioned two works now in the collection of the Frick, a secrétaire and commode by royal cabinetmaker Jean-Henri Riesener. The furniture set accompanied the king and queen when they were forced to relocate to Paris at the start of the French Revolution.
- There are only thirty-six known works attributed to Johannes Vermeer in existence, of which The Frick Collection has three.
- Vermeer’s Mistress and Maid (1666–67) was the last work of art Henry Clay Frick purchased, acquired in the year of his death, 1919.
- Recently, Mistress and Maid underwent a joint study by the Frick and The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New groundbreaking discoveries found that Vermeer painted the stark curtain in the background over an abandoned sketch of a tapestry or painting.
Henry Clay Frick brought together two iconic paintings by renowned sixteenth-century German portraitist Hans Holbein, of Sir Thomas More (1527) and Thomas Cromwell (1532–33), when he purchased them in the early 1900s. He installed them on opposite sides of the fireplace in the Living Hall, so Cromwell—who was largely responsible for More's death—stares across at his mortal enemy for eternity.
- The Frick’s Bullfight (1864) by Édouard Manet and his Dead Toreador (1864) at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., used to be one painting. Manet cut the original work apart after a critic described it as “a toreador of wood killed by a horned rat.”
- In Anthony van Dyck’s Sir John Suckling (ca. 1638), the sitter holds the first known depiction in art of Shakespeare’s First Folio, opened on the play Hamlet.
- Henry Clay Frick apparently wished to commission a portrait from famed American painter John Singer Sargent. A letter in the Frick Archives informs Mr. Frick that the artist is not accepting any new commissions.
- Bartolomé Esteban Murillo’s Self-Portrait (ca. 1650–55) was Henry Clay Frick’s first Spanish acquisition. The painting stayed in the family and was gifted to the Frick in 2014 by Mrs. Henry Clay Frick II, the widow of Mr. Frick's grandson.
- Mr. Frick went on to contribute to the growing taste for Spanish painting in the United States, purchasing now-famous works by Goya, Velázquez, and El Greco.
- Henry Clay Frick lent out Degas’s Rehearsal (1878–79) to be shown in a 1915 exhibition benefiting the women’s suffrage movement, at the request of fellow collector and suffragette Louisine Havemeyer.
- The Frick owns two cloud studies by John Constable. Constable created many of these quasi-scientific sketches, even coining a term for this practice: “skying.”
- Among the Frick’s renowned enamels collection are two works by Suzanne de Court (act. ca. 1600), the only known female head of a French workshop producing such luxury decorative wares.
- Henry Clay Frick commissioned a portrait bust of his daughter Helen from the American sculptor Malvina Cornell Hoffman (1887–1966). Only a preparatory plaster model survives, since Helen allegedly destroyed the marble bust.
- Largely a collection of European fine and decorative arts, the Frick also has select examples of non-Western art, including Chinese porcelain and Persian and Indian carpets.
- The Frick’s Chinese porcelain directly influenced its examples of European ceramics. Meissen porcelain, in particular, was created to imitate Chinese porcelain, thanks to Johann Friedrich Böttger’s discoveries.
- Two exquisite and rare Mughal carpets from the reign of Shah Jahan, the patron of the Taj Mahal, will be on display as independent works of art at Frick Madison.
Buildings & Installation
- The Frick Collection is housed at 1 East 70th Street—with a temporary move to Frick Madison in 2021 for renovations—and was part of a network of the Fricks’ properties, along with Clayton (their Pittsburgh home) and Eagle Rock (their summer estate in Prides Crossing, Massachusetts).
- Henry Clay Frick indicated his intention to leave his home behind as an art museum in his will, dictating that it become a collection “to which the entire public shall forever have access.”
- In order to construct his home, Henry Clay Frick acquired the former building of the Lenox Library, whose collections were then being consolidated as part of the New York Public Library’s new Main Branch.
- A two-lane bowling alley, completed in 1916, is a hidden splendor of The Frick Collection. (It remains inaccessible to the public due to fire code regulations.)
One of the Frick's most recognizable spaces, the Garden Court, now stands in what was originally the house’s open-air driveway.
- Iconic spaces at the Frick, including the Garden Court, Oval Room, and East Gallery, were all built after Mr. Frick’s death, while the building was being converted into a museum.
- Ten call buttons sit discreetly on the wainscotting in the West Gallery, remnants of the behind-the-scenes network of domestic workers who kept the Frick family’s Gilded Age mansion running.
- The façade of Las Vegas’s New York-New York Hotel & Casino features a replica of the Breuer building—the Frick’s temporary home, called Frick Madison, starting in early 2021.
- Elsie de Wolfe, credited as the country’s first professional interior designer, decorated fourteen rooms of Henry Clay Frick’s new Fifth Avenue mansion. Her passion for French decorative art influenced Mr. Frick’s interest in it as a collector.
The paintings and decor in the Frick’s celebrated Boucher Room were originally installed in Mrs. Frick’s boudoir on the second floor, moving downstairs when the house was converted to a museum in 1935.
- Frick’s more modern paintings, such as those by Édouard Manet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Edgar Degas, were all originally installed upstairs, in the family’s more private spaces.
- The installation of works of art and furniture in the Living Hall mostly matches the placement in Mr. Frick’s home during his lifetime.
- With one brief exception during a conservation treatment, the paintings in the Living Hall remained in the exact same place for over 100 years—until their temporary re-installation during our upcoming move to Frick Madison.
- Henry Clay Frick liked paintings with which he could comfortably live, preferring portraits and landscapes over more dramatic, violent, or erotic scenes.
- Opposite his bed on the second floor, Mr. Frick installed one of his British portrait paintings, George Romney’s Lady Hamilton as “Nature” (1782).
The most well-represented artist among those collected by Henry Clay Frick is James McNeill Whistler. During his lifetime, Frick purchased five oil paintings, three pastels, and twelve etchings by the American expatriate artist.
In Mr. Frick’s office hung two paintings by Whistler—the portraits of Lady Meux and of Mrs. Frances Leyland—that flanked one of the collection’s rare American works of art, Gilbert Stuart’s George Washington (1795).
Frick Art Reference Library
- The Frick Art Reference Library was founded in 1920 by Helen Clay Frick, Henry Clay Frick’s daughter, and is home to one of the world’s greatest art research collections.
- Once housed in the downstairs bowling alley, the library was greatly expanded and moved twice in its history. It moved into its current home, a new building constructed in 1934 adjacent to the original Frick mansion, the year the museum opened, in 1935.
- The Frick Art Reference Library's original location at 6 East 71st Street was a one-story building from 1924. After it moved to its current location, additional galleries in the museum occupied that part of the property.
- The Photoarchive, the library’s founding collection, documents works of art from the fourth century to the present day. One of the first institutions of its kind in the United States, the Photoarchive was created to help researchers who could not access art in person.
The Photoarchive’s early holdings were collected through library-sponsored photographic expeditions around the country from 1922 to 1967, which documented rarely reproduced works of art in private collections and elsewhere.
- The Photoarchive contains about 1.2 million photographs in its collection, along with accompanying documentation. You can explore around 300,000 digitized images in the Frick Digital Collections.
- In addition to the Photoarchive, the Frick Art Reference Library’s collections contain 266,050 book titles, approximately 3,326 periodicals, and about 101,040 auction catalogs (as of December 31, 2019).
- A number of images in the Photoarchive document works of art that have been lost, altered, or destroyed.
During World War II, the Frick Library served as the headquarters of the Committee on the Protection of Cultural Treasures in War Areas, which used the Photoarchive to identify important cultural sites to be protected during warfare, a campaign dramatized in the film The Monuments Men.
- The library has only closed twice during its hundred-year history: during World War II, and in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The painted frieze above the mural in the library's Main Reading Room features portraits of two of Helen Clay Frick's dogs.
The Frick Family
- Henry Clay Frick (1849–1919) started his career as a bookkeeper for his family’s whisky distillery, later making his fortune in Pittsburgh in the coke and steel industry before moving to New York City.
- The Fricks owned their own railway car, the Westmoreland, a luxury Pullman car that Mr. Frick’s wife, Adelaide Childs Frick, helped decorate.
- In 1892, Henry Clay Frick was the victim of a failed assassination attempt by Russian-born anarchist Alexander Berkman. After the attempt, Frick cabled his business partner Andrew Carnegie and his mother: “Was twice shot, but not dangerously.”
- Henry Clay Frick's telegraphic address was "Friction" (a play on his last name), as seen in messages like this one from art dealer Charles Carstairs, found in the Frick Archives.
Henry and Adelaide Frick were almost passengers on the Titanic’s ill-fated maiden voyage in 1912. Mr. Frick canceled their tickets before they could set sail, their return from Europe having been delayed due to Mrs. Frick's health.
Helen Clay Frick worked for the Red Cross during World War I, and the destruction of cultural heritage she witnessed while in Europe partly inspired her founding of the Frick Art Reference Library.
- Helen also founded the Frick Art Museum, celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year, to house her collection of fine and decorative arts. The museum is part of The Frick Pittsburgh.
- At Mr. Frick’s Iron Rail property in Wenham, Massachusetts, Helen ran the Iron Rail Vacation Home for Girls, which offered leisure activities and summer housing for young women who worked in local textile mills.
- Childs Frick, the son of Henry Clay Frick, was an avid fossil collector and bequeathed his “extraordinary bestiary of fossil mammals”—some 250,000 specimens—to the American Museum of Natural History in 1965.
- The Nassau County Museum of Art in Roslyn Harbor on Long Island, New York, is housed in the former estate of Childs Frick and his wife Frances.
The Frick in Pop Culture
- Works of art from the Frick’s permanent collection have been downloaded for use in video games such as Animal Crossing, which grew in popularity during the coronavirus lockdown.
- The Frick’s West Gallery is featured in scenes of HBO Max’s 2020 series The Undoing.
- A model of The Frick Collection made out of all-natural materials has been included in the New York Botanical Garden’s Holiday Train Show.
- According to Stan Lee, the Avengers Mansion in the Avengers comic book series was based on The Frick Collection building at 1 East 70th Street.
- The Broadway show Fun Home, based on the graphic novel of the same name (2006) by Alison Bechdel, features a trip to The Frick Collection in the song “Clueless in New York.”
- The Frick is referenced in season 3, episode 11, of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Character Titus Andromedon is accused of falling asleep on the floor at the Frick. He retorts sarcastically: “But when Tilda Swinton does it, it’s art.”
- Among its many Upper East Side locations, The CW teen drama show Gossip Girl alludes to The Frick Collection multiple times, including its “Fall Dinner” (a play on the Frick’s Autumn Dinner) in season 2, episode 6.
New York School poet Frank O'Hara (1926–1966) references the Frick in his 1960 poem “Having a Coke with You” (excerpted below).
- The 2012 film A Late Quartet was the first major movie production allowed to film in The Frick Collection’s galleries.
- Wes Anderson has said that a fictive Renaissance painting in his film The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) was partially inspired by the Frick’s Lodovico Capponi (1550–55) by Agnolo Bronzino.
- Early in the film Mr. Turner (2014), a biopic of J. M. W. Turner, the painter is seen working on Harbor of Dieppe: Changement de Domicile (exhibited 1825).
- Emma, Lady Hamilton (1765–1815), the subject of George Romney’s Lady Hamilton as “Nature” (1782), is the protagonist of Susan Sontag’s novel The Volcano Lover (1992).
- PBS’s Emmy award–winning documentary series Treasures of New York featured a dedicated episode about The Frick Collection. The Frick was also included in A&E Network's groundbreaking series America's Castles, which was the first major TV shoot at the museum.
- On May 3, 1947, T. S. Eliot delivered a lecture at the Frick on John Milton. The poet Marianne Moore, a future recipient of the Pulitzer Prize, wrote that she had never “heard so resounding an introduction” as that given for Eliot, adding that “[P. T.] Barnum would have been envious.”
- Painter and sculptor Frank Stella enjoys visiting the Frick, calling it “lovable.” Stella cites a work in the collection, Charles-François Daubigny’s Dieppe (1877), as an early artistic influence.
- In 2014, cult filmmaker and avid art collector John Waters hitchhiked to the Frick with a reporter from New York City’s Greenwich Village.
- After visiting the Frick in March 1991, writer John Updike praised the museum as “a treasure, without which New York City would be considerably the poorer.”
- Singer and fashion designer Victoria Beckham became interested in the Old Masters thanks to a 2019 collaboration with Sotheby’s and a fateful visit to the Frick.
- Actress Diana Rigg—of James Bond and Game of Thrones fame—would visit the Frick frequently when acting on Broadway. She cited Rembrandt’s Self-Portrait (1658) as having “sort of taught [her] about acting.”
- In 2010, artist David Hockney was captivated by the Frick’s Sermon on the Mount (ca. 1656) by Claude Lorrain, creating eleven paintings of the subject before completing an enormous version of his own, titled A Bigger Message, made up of thirty canvases.
- Renowned German filmmaker Wim Wenders visited the Frick in 2018 to see Giovanni Bellini’s St. Francis in the Desert (ca. 1475–80) for the first time. He reported: “I stood in front of this painting with my mouth open, just as ecstatic as its main man.”
Legendary New York Times fashion photographer Bill Cunningham (1929–2016) was a friend of the Frick, photographing events at the Collection for some twenty years for his column “Evening Hours.”
I look at you and I would rather look at you than all the portraits in the world
except possibly for the Polish Rider occasionally and anyway it's in the Frick
whick thank heavens you haven't gone to yet so we can go together for the first time
—Frank O'Hara, 1960