The model of the proposed glass-enclosed portico, which would house sculpture and decorative objects at the Frick Collection. (Davis Brody Bond Aedas Architects and Planners)
This past week, the Frick Collection in NYC announced it would build a glass portico on the north side of its Fifth Avenue garden. The Frick has expanded only twice since it was first built in 1913 - the building doubled in size in the 1930s and added a garden in the 1970s. In honor of the collection, here's a great examination of their works and space, via the NY Times:
Rembrandt. Vermeer. Constable. Turner. Veronese. Ingres. Renoir. Gainsborough. Titian. El Greco. Hals. Van Dyck. Holbein. Fragonard. They’re all there. The Frick Collection is, in fact, one of the finest gatherings of European paintings in the United States.
Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919), a Pittsburgh coke and steel magnate, was called “the most hated man in America” because of his strike-breaking activities. In 1910, he bought land at the northeast corner of Fifth Avenue and 70th Street in Manhattan to build a mansion, one that he hoped would out-Carnegie Andrew Carnegie, his chief rival. Frick had been collecting art for more than a decade, and he wanted the house to be used as a home for his art.
Henry Clay Frick
Work on the house began in 1913. It was designed by the firm of Carrère and Hastings, architects of the New York Public Library building at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, and cost $5 million.
At his death, Frick bequeathed his New York residence and the most outstanding of his many art works, with an endowment of $15 million, to establish a public gallery, according to the Frick’s Web site, for the purpose of “encouraging and developing the study of the fine arts.” Chief among his bequests, which also included sculpture, drawings, prints, and decorative arts such as furniture, porcelains, enamels, rugs and silver, the Web site says, were 131 paintings. The house, with additions by the architect John Russell Pope, opened to the public as a museum called the Frick Collection in December 1935. Forty-seven more paintings have been acquired over the years; according to the Web site, the Frick Collection has a permanent collection of more than 1,100 works of art from the Renaissance to the late 19th century.
Although these days it has an increasing number of special exhibitions, some things have remained pretty much unchanged since the museum opened. One room harks back even further, to the years just before Henry Clay Frick's death, when he built and furnished the mansion with the intention that it would eventually be a public museum. This is the grand living room, or Living Hall, which can give rise to one of New York's great art-and-power epiphanies.
El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos) St. Jerome (1590-1600)
Thick with furniture and carpeting, the room has a built-in hush, a soothing green tonality and six paintings that form an amazing cohort. El Greco's otherworldly ''St. Jerome'' has a spot over the fireplace, flanked by Hans Holbein the Younger's portraits of Thomas Cromwell and Thomas More. On the opposite wall is the Venetian master Giovanni Bellini's magisterial ''St. Francis in the Desert'' from around 1480. It is flanked by Titian's portrait of Pietro Aretino and his mellifluous ''Portrait of a Man in a Red Cap.'' Altogether this room is a prime example of robber baron luxe. But the room is also a stunning testament to Frick’s passion for painting and perhaps, like the rest of his museum, even of a desire for atonement achieved by doing some public good.
Dating from the late 15th to the late 16th centuries, these works span an amazingly active period in the history of painting. For one thing, they present an almost classic opposition of tight and loose surfaces. The gleaming meticulous oil-on-panel surfaces of the Holbeins and the St. Francis play off the soft but commanding brushiness of the El Greco and Titian canvases.
Giovanni Bellini St. Francis in the Desert (1480)
''St. Francis in the Desert'' is arguably Bellini's greatest painting and an indelible staple of Art History 101. The setting is a panoramic rendering of a busy, seemingly Northern Italian landscape that includes carefully tended fields, a donkey, a flock of sheep with its outsize shepherd and hill towns receding in the distance. Everything seems to pause as St. Francis stands ready on unlikely pale blue rocks in the foreground, with open hands and skyward gaze. The stigmata of Jesus are about to arrive. The intense blue sky -- the picture's most vivid color -- seems to burn with the promise of heavenly reward. There are superb details: the rabbit nestled in a hole in the wall, just beneath St. Francis's left hand; a little twig of a tree just behind him, whose spindly branches form a delicate cross at what appears to be the composition's exact center.
In contrast El Greco's tall rendition of ''St. Jerome'' is an Everest of brushy, stroke-by-stroke fabulousness: his dark pink cardinal's robes, white red-trimmed cuffs, elongated hands planted lightly on an open Bible. Everything seems subtly alive, with the face being the most fluid point. St. Jerome's look is quizzical, his lips are slightly parted. He could be on the verge of delivering a stern bit of wisdom or about to think out loud.
Hans Holbein the Younger Thomas More
They are all portraits of men, some of them great men, the kind of men that Frick would have wanted to be associated with. Each portrait represents, in its very form and execution, a manly attribute that Frick would probably have liked to think he possessed: the noble devotion of St. Francis, the benign erudition of St. Jerome, the firmness of Holbein's More. (If ever a face expressed the courage of its owner's convictions, it's More's, who chose to be beheaded rather than recognize the divorced Henry VIII as the leader of the Church of England.)
Holbein's almost desiccated portrait of the much slyer Cromwell reflects ruthless pragmatism, while the study in browns and golds that is Titian's Aretino depicts a bullish man whom the Frick handbook describes as ''an author of scurrilous verses'' who ''acquired great wealth through literary flattery and blackmail.'' His strength is emphasized by the heavy chain around his neck. Finally Titian's ''Portrait of a Man in a Red Cap,'' which introduces a handsome youth in a wide ermine collar that benefits especially from the Oval Room's natural light, is the aesthete made beautiful (redeemed) by his love of the arts.
Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) Portrait of a Man in a Red Cap (1516)
Next door to these men is something completely different — the Fragonard Room, a six-panel ''Progress of Love'' by the 18th-century Rococo-style French painter Jean-Honoré Fragonard. The clandestine flirtations of the porcelainlike damsels and gentlemen are no match for the persistent suggestiveness of voluminous, erupting foliage and not-so-frozen-looking garden statuary. The Frick has three rare and renowned Vermeers, all probably dating from the 1660s — only about 35 paintings are firmly attributed to him today. The large luminous ''Mistress and Maid'' outshines two smaller, mousier works: ''Officer and Laughing Girl'' and ''Girl Interrupted at Her Music.'' Each shows a man and a young woman in an interior, and suggest that Vermeer was at his best when he painted women.
The Frick also owns three of New York City’s most familiar and beloved Rembrandts: ''The Polish Rider,'' his portrait ''Nicholaes Ruts'' and a 1658 self-portrait in which the artist depicts himself as a kind of pasha in exile, ruling over the darkness of his studio. In addition to a cache of Rembrandt drawings, the Frick has four Frans Hals portraits, two landscapes by Jacob van Ruisdael, one by Salomon van Ruysdael and a splendid Aelbert Cuyp.
J.M.W. Turner The Harbor of Dieppe (1826)
In the long gallery you can see J.M.W. Turner's views of Dieppe and Cologne. When they were first shown, these paintings astonished by their alliance of a grand design with the finest possible attention to detail and finesse. Arrivals and departures by sea were almost an obsession with Turner, and he could never get too much exact maritime detail into his paintings of harbors. If you go, notice the clarity, the delicacy and the assurance with which Turner tackled the great vault of the European sky. For them, if for nothing else, it would be well worth while dropping by at the Frick.
There never was anybody yet who didn't love the Frick. To begin with, its works of art are terrific. We cannot hope to see better things of their kind than Bellini's ''St. Francis,'' the two big allegorical panels byVeronese, the ''Polish Rider'' by Rembrandt, the portrait of the Comtesse d'Haussonville by Ingres, the ''Progress of Love'' series that Madame du Barry commissioned from Fragonard, the Gainsborough of St. James's Park, Constable's ''Salisbury Cathedral,'' Degas's ''The Rehearsal'' and the portrait of Comte Robert de Montesquiou-Fezensacby Whistler. The porcelain, Limoges enamels and Renaissance bronzes are pretty fabulous too.
The rooms have the flavor of a house that is still lived in - fresh flowers compound that particular illusion - and there is plenty of uncrowded space. (The indoor pool with its pebbled floor and bronze frog set to jump high in the air is one of the pleasantest places in which to keep the Manhattan summer at bay.) Quite apart from all that, the Frick treats us as responsible human beings - so much so, in fact, that as noon draws near we catch ourselves wondering whether we shall be invited upstairs for a glass of dry sherry and a biscuit.
Ever since it was opened to the public, the Frick has had this kind of impact. It has stood, and it stands today, as an oasis, a haven and a lighthouse. Never, we feel, will the oasis be polluted, the haven be overrun by bad characters or the lighthouse go on the blink.