NEW YORK—Every first Friday of the month, people wait in a line that circles halfway around the Fifth Avenue block between 70th and 71st streets to enter The Frick Collection. First Fridays is fast becoming the “beloved and well-known New York tradition” that the director of the museum, Ian Wardropper, had hoped the event would become when it started in October last year.
Once inside, you see each room, gallery, and hall teeming with people eagerly absorbing exquisite art—paintings by Rembrandt, Johannes Vermeer, Diego Velazquez, Anthony Van Dyck, William Turner, and Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, to name a few of the giants, among sculptors and decorative artists in the collection. During set times throughout the evening, museum educators and curators give talks and lectures about the museum, special collections, or specific masterpieces.
In the Garden Court, people take a break from looking at art to create their own by sketching and drawing, with paper and pencils provided on the house, or they may enter the Music Room to enjoy a live concert. This month, the Fat Afro Latin Jazz Cats performed throughout the evening. Previous months featured string quartets, pianists, and solo cellists, as well as dance performances.
These visitors are here not for mere chitchat and drinks, but to socialize in the spirit of sharing their experiences of beautiful art. The atmosphere is airy and uplifting, too lively for any ghosts to linger around. Yet the presence of Henry Clay Frick’s taste can be fully felt, as his wishes continue to be fulfilled.
A Generous Lover of Art for All
Born into a relatively modest family in rural Pennsylvania, and with little formal education, Frick (1849–1919) made his fortune building the world’s largest coke (fuel) and steel operations. At the height of the Gilded Age, he partnered with the Carnegie Brothers and played a major role in forming the United States Steel Corporation. But before he had made his first million by the age of 30, he had already started to collect art. He collected drawings, prints, paintings, sculptures, porcelains, silver, enamels, furniture, and rugs for over 40 years. He only collected what he loved and would like to live with in his family home.
Before he built his home in New York City from 1913 to 1914, Frick clearly had the intention, as he said, for it to serve as a “public gallery, to which the entire public shall forever have access” after his death. Frick lived there just five years before he passed away in 1919.
The opening of the museum in 1935 made national headlines, and at the inaugural celebration, distinguished guests included members of the Astor, Carnegie, Mellon, Rockefeller, Sulzberger, Vanderbilt, and Warburg families. Critics spoke of it as a great “legacy of beauty” and one where the quality of its collection was “unsurpassed anywhere.”
After Frick’s death, his daughter, Helen Clay Frick, and the board of trustees added to the collection, maintaining Frick’s standards for quality. The museum still encompasses all aspects of one man’s taste—architecture and interior design in addition to the decorative and fine art—fully integrated and harmonized with each other.
Frick was taciturn. While he spoke few words to describe the art he collected, the works gave him profound satisfaction. In the quiet of the night, he was known to walk down from his bedroom to the first floor to look at his paintings, in what is now called the West Gallery, which still looks very much like he left it upon his death. He would also transport some of his favorite paintings in his private train carriage to his vacation home, so that he could continue to enjoy them in the summer, said Rachel Himes, an education assistant who gave a talk at the First Fridays on June 2.
We know of one example when Frick described a painting. He bought the “The Polish Rider” by Rembrandt (1606–1669), without having seen it first. Soon after he received it and hung it on the wall, he sent a one-word telegraph to his art dealer, saying, “Enchanted.”
We can now walk through Frick’s home—a museum with doors wide open to the public for over 80 years—and be enchanted with the art he loved. The First Fridays event in June was packed, full of a mixed crowd of art lovers of all ages, eagerly soaking up the uplifting feeling of being in a museum full of vitality.
Museum admission and gallery programs are free the first Friday evening of the month (except in September and in January). The next event will take place on July 7, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Information on individual events is available at Frick.org/FirstFridays
Starting in July, The Frick Collection will offer pay-as-you-wish admission every Wednesday afternoon from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. The new weekday offering will replace the Frick’s current pay-as-you-wish admission on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. A full list of programs can be found at Frick.org/programs