A review of the The Frick Collection at the Breuer Building by Sharon Lorenzo.
Temporary home of The Frick Collection
Breuer building and interior galleries, 945 Madison Avenue, New York, NY
Ladies and Gentlemen, there are some wonderful works of art waiting to cheer you up after months of isolation, at 945 Madison Avenue in New York City. They are here from March of 2021 for as long as it takes to remodel their permanent location at 1 East 70th Street which Henry Clay Frick built as a family home and public museum following the passing of himself and his wife, Adelaide. After living there with two children and twenty-seven servants, the Fricks would no doubt be pleased that the NY Landmark Commission finally gave permission to add 60,000 new square feet for exhibition space and a path to connect the main house to the research library, traversing the gardens of its first architect, John Pope Hennessy. Anna Selldorf and her firm will remodel the former private residence on the second floor for art exhibitions as part of this new addition.
Frick Museum, 1 East 70th St.
Frick Museum- Converted and Enlarged
The Frick Director, Ian Wardropper, formerly a curator at the Metropolitan Museum, has led the Frick Museum since 2011 and with generous funding from this board of directors and affiliated donors, he was able to lease the Breuer building from the Whitney Museum which moved to its new downtown location on 99 Gansevoort Street in 2015. What will be the disposition of this modernist location is yet undetermined, but a visit to the space with the Frick treasures may attract some wealthy collector or brave developer who could remodel to transform the space into a different kind of building: apartments, restaurant, discotheque? Stay tuned for those results!
Comtesse d’Haussonville, 1845, Jean- Auguste- Dominique Ingres, oil on canvas.
With his gifted curators, Xavier Salomon and Susan Galassi, Ian supervised a masterful installation which differs from the interiors of the Frick family home, but engages the viewer in a new way to draw one into a deep gaze at the array of masterpieces that Frick and his successors were able to assemble. What ladies could be more beautiful in any setting than these two gems!
This portrait of the Comtesse entered the Frick collection at the suggestion of his daughter Helen. The 27 year old Louise was married to a French diplomat and the mother of his two children. Ingres is known to have done 16 preliminary drawings of this beauty whom he painted in her boudoir at her family home in Paris. One of her friends is noted to have said, “ Monsieur Ingres must have been in love with you to have painted you this way !”[i]
Julia, Lady Peel. Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1827, oil on canvas.
Born in India, Julia Floyd Peel was the daughter of a British army officer, and when she married British prime minister, Sir Robert Peel, he commissioned this portrait which was exhibited at the Royal Academy in London in 1827 to great acclaim as she is festooned in satin, feathers and sparkling gems. With his resources from a fortune built in coal mines near Pittsburgh which fed the steel industry at the beginning of the 20th century, Frick’s net worth at this death would be equivalent today to approximately $40 billion dollars. Many of his works such as these came from the infamous art dealer, Joseph Duveen, who was able to acquire many masterpieces when the European economies went into a steep decline at the end of the 19th century.[ii]
These English and French treasures are matched with Spanish and Dutch masterpieces which are also part of the Frick Collection. In the austerity of the Breuer building, each visitor should take a long look at the details of two treasures such as these.
Diego Rodriquez de Silva y Velazquez, King Philip IV of Spain, 1644, oil on canvas.
Velazquez was brought to the court of the kings of Spain from his humble beginnings in Seville and served them from 1627 until his death in 1660. Philip IV had him paint numerous official portraits which documented his reign and these elaborate fabrics which his royal highness wore for special occasions. A recent study has shown that the in-breeding in the house of Hapsburg rendered many of his successors a bit retarded and unable to reign with full authority, but this magnificent work shows the best of the king in full control of himself and his empire which was expanding from Spain to the New World of the Americas in the 17th century.
The Polish Rider, Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn, 1655, oil on canvas.
Frick acquired this magnificent picture in 1910 from a Polish Count, Zdzislaw Tarnowski. The young man seated on his mount is fixed in his gaze on the viewer while his hands rest on his reins and his sword, preparing for battle perhaps as a cavalry officer. More details are not known about the artist’s intent for this work which is part of his vast oeuvre of paintings and works on paper.[iii]
In closing, a visitor to the Breuer must see two works purchased by Frick in the same year of 1914, two of my personal favorites.
Hilaire- Germain-Edgar Degas, The Rehearsal, 1878-9. Oil on canvas
Pierre- Auguste Renoir, Mother and Children, 1875-6, oil on canvas
Henry Clay Frick, with his vision for investing his earnings in a major art collection, has left New York with a wonderful legacy from America’s Gilded Age. The exhibition of some of his treasures at the Breuer on Madison Avenue is an exercise in seeing the works in a more spare but well-lit contemporary environment. These treasures stand strong and require a good long look at each one.
Timed tickets can be purchased online to facilitate each visit.
Gerald Kelly, 1924.Portrait of Henry Clay Frick, (1849-1919). Oil on canvas
[i] The Frick Collection, New York. Foundation BNP, Paribas, P. 59.
[ii] Home Goods: On Loving the Frick. Peter Schjeldahl, The New Yorker, Feb 15, 2021, p. 87.
[iii] Ibid, The Frick Collection, p. 44.
Here are a few more of Sharon Lorenzo’s articles for ASE;