Exhibition | The Frick Collects: From Rubens to Monet
Arthur Devis, Sir Joshua Vanneck and His Family, 1752, oil on canvas, 146 × 142 cm
(Pittsburgh: Frick Art & Historical Center, 1984.24)
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Now on view at The Frick Pittsburgh:
The Frick Collects: From Rubens to Monet
Frick Art & Historical Center, Pittsburgh, 29 October 2016 — 14 May 2017
Take a look at the Frick in a new way in this exhibition, which, for the first time tells the story of the Frick through its collection. From Henry Clay Frick’s early purchases, to his daughter Helen’s collecting interests, through to the acquisitions that have been made by the museum in recent years, visitors will see and learn about the enduring legacy of the Frick family as art collectors. Objects will be brought together to tell a unified story—a story that doesn’t stop with Henry Clay Frick’s early purchases for Clayton, but continues, looking at both Henry and Helen as the collectors who have shaped the Frick Art & Historical Center’s holdings.
The earliest acquisitions in the collection date to Henry Clay Frick’s bachelor days. Before his marriage (and for the first months after his marriage) he lived in downtown Pittsburgh at the fashionable Monongahela House. He bought his first paintings and decorative objects for his rooms there: an elaborate rococo revival clock and candelabra set purchased through Tiffany’s, an ebonized cabinet, and his first documented painting purchase, a landscape by local artist George Hetzel.
When they moved into Clayton, Henry Clay Frick and his wife furnished it as many young couples do—most of the purchases were new, fashionable and of the period. Frick had met his wife, Adelaide Howard Childs (1859–1931) in February 1881. Adelaide was the sixth daughter of the wealthy Pittsburgh Childs family, who were manufacturers and importers of shoes and boots. For young couples during America’s Gilded Age like the Fricks, art collecting was not simply a way to exercise taste and create a suitable environment—although these were important considerations. More subtly the right objects gave their owner a sense of history and pedigree. Collecting was a personal pleasure and an indicator of status, discernment and good taste.
The rise in American collecting of this period also coincided with the establishment of the first museums in the country, including the Wadsworth Athenaeum of Hartford, Connecticut in 1842, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston in 1870, New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1872, and in 1896, Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Institute. As the century progressed, forming collections and bequeathing them to the public became one way to put wealth and the accumulation of a collection to public service.
It was Helen Clay Frick’s vision that led to the restoration of Clayton as a house museum. The Frick Art Museum, which was opened to the public in 1970 just a block south of Clayton, was built primarily for the collection she developed, rather than the one she inherited. Helen even had the family cars and carriages carefully preserved and brought back to Pittsburgh from the family’s Massachusetts summer estate.
The Frick Art Museum opened in 1970 with its main galleries devoted to Helen’s greatest interests: early Italian Renaissance paintings and eighteenth-century French fine and decorative art. Since Helen’s death in 1984, the collection has continued to develop—through generous donations and acquisitions that reflect the same quality as that evinced by the founding collection. Through the foresight of Helen Clay Frick who valued Pittsburgh, and who understood that her youth at Clayton was one of unique privilege—not simply financially, but aesthetically—these collections are the heart of the experience at the Frick Pittsburgh.
The Frick Collects is accompanied by a new, fully-illustrated guide to the collection published by Scala, specialists in working with museums to produce beautiful publications. The publication is generously underwritten by The Richard C. von Hess Foundation.
Robin Nicholson, Sarah Hall, and Dawn Reid Brean, The Frick Pittsburgh: A Guide to the Collection (New York: Scala, 2016), 120 pages, ISBN: 9781785510717, $15.
The collections at The Frick Pittsburgh are the combined legacy of famed art collector and industrialist Henry Clay Frick and his daughter Helen. Two essays tell the story of Frick’s early collecting and his daughter’s interest in continuing his mission to purchase great art and make it publicly accessible. The book also provides a photographic tour of Clayton, the Frick family’s historic Pittsburgh home, which is now a house museum.
Collection highlights presented include fabulous examples of early Renaissance Italian painting, eighteenth-century French painting, furniture, and decorative arts, spectacular Chinese porcelains, and masterpieces by artists like Rubens, Guardi, Boucher, Gainsborough, Fragonard, Millet, and Monet. The entirety of the Frick’s collections—spanning the thirteenth century to the present—are displayed at The Frick Art Museum, Clayton, and the Car and Carriage Museum—all located on the Frick’s five-plus acres of landscaped grounds.
Robin Nicholson has been Director of The Frick Pittsburgh since 2014. Sarah J. Hall began working at The Frick Pittsburgh in 1994 and has been Director of Curatorial Affairs since 2007. Dawn Reid Brean joined the Frick as Associate Curator of Decorative Arts in 2015.