Henry Frick: The Dialogue Between the Collector and the Art
Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919), one of the richest American businessmen of his time and a prominent collector, carefully selected each painting in his choicest collection. Henry had only brief formal education as he started to work as a salesman from early years and tried to improve his family’s poor financial situation. He had never had a chance to see masterpieces of art. However, his love and knowledge of art was acquired from reproductions in books and from engravings. In his youth, he lived surrounded by prints and sketches that were all around his small room.
After becoming a successful industrialist and the owner of a coke manufacturing company in 1880, Henry brought to life his interest in art. In 1881, inspired by his first trip to Europe and the ability to see the works of art in person, Henry Frick started to build his marvelous collection of paintings. It was Mr. Frick’s custom to keep paintings under consideration in the house for several months before he made his final decision about them. The time when Frick moved to New York in the fall of 1905 was the golden period of his collecting. The house at Seventieth Street and Fifth Avenue provided a generous space with wide walls where Mr. Frick could put his expanding collection. Every time when Henry Frick was acquiring a new painting he needed to be sure that it harmonized with the rest of the pictures. He considered all his paintings as his family members and sometimes he changed the arrangements of the rooms before putting new works of art on the wall.
Mr. Frick acquired Elizabeth, Lady Taylor, painted by Joshua Reynolds, the greatest portrait painter of his time, in 1910. The painting was acquired from Joseph Duveen, a successful and influential British art dealer. The woman in the painting wears a cream-white silk dress and a gold-embroidered sash. Her face is powdered as well as her hair. Undoubtedly, the most outstanding part of Lady’s clothing is her hat. The hat is decorated with ostrich plumes and blue satin ribbon. The ribbon trimmed with loops of narrower blue ribbon that are stacked on the hair. The hat is almost like a building balanced on Lady Taylor’s head.
Hats were one of the Frick’s passions. He was said by his daughter Helen to be “very particular about the hats and always expressed himself frankly,” often exclaiming to her, “that’s quite a hat you have on” or “where’s that hat going?” Mr. Frick was opposed to other collectors of his time who wanted to create as broad and various collections of art as possible. Frick chose with his heart and soul; that is why his collection remains bright and unique.
In 1911 Henry Frick acquired another painting from the Duveen Brothers Incorporation. The painting was The Hon. Frances Duncombe painted by Thomas Gainsborough. The painting expresses aristocratic charm to which Henry Frick was always attracted, and later continued to collect similar paintings of other artists, such as Anthony van Dyck. In fact, the painter of Frances Duncombe was eager to learn the techniques of Van Dyck’s dress picturing, and copied that style to his own paintings.
The subject of the painting, Frances Duncombe, is a wealthy noblewoman. She lived with her stepmother who married the First Earl of Radnor. The Earl’s family collected seventeenth-century portraits, including Van Dyck’s paintings of women in fancy dresses. Inspired by previous artist’s works, Thomas Gainsborough painted Frances Duncombe, as well as the other family members, in full length, by copying Van Dyck’s baroque dress style, with slashed sleeves and gathered skirt.
Henry Clay Frick collected Van Dyck’s drawings more than any other artists’ works and owned eight works of all periods of painter’s art. Van Dyck’s portraits of aristocracy especially attracted Henry Frick, as he was interested in collecting paintings that express elegance and sophistication of the artist’s period. He bought Genoese Noblewoman from James Hamilton, a British politician and the 1st Duke of Abercon, in January 1914 for eighty thousand dollars. Frick hung the painting in the center of the south wall of the West Gallery, among other significant works of art in his New York house.
Genoese Noblewoman is a compelling work of art. A life size and a full-length portrait represents a woman in a lavish, white and gold colored dress. A heavy red curtain, that emerges behind the woman, is fastened to the column with a robe. The bottom part of the curtain is placed on the wooden chair that is draped in red velvet. The chair is placed over a large carpet which is also red. A Fictional backdrop is made to express the beauty and richness of Genoa’s palaces, that were one of the greatest seventeenth century aristocratic residences in Europe.
The early twentieth was the time of ever-worsening financial circumstances for Europe’s aristocracy that played into the hands of ambitious American collectors. The international art market overflowed with excellent paintings from esteemed collections. Lady Anne Carey, Later Viscountess Claneboye and Countess of Clanbrassil painted by Anthony van Dyck was admired and regularly exhibited in Europe. It was among a group of four Van Dyck’s portraits, that were exhibited in 1875 at the Royal Academy. Henry Clay Frick acquired the painting in 1917 from Rudolph Feilding, the British peer and the 9th Earl of Denbigh. The Lady Anne Carey serves the taste of English aristocracy and reflects the image of aristocratic ideology of the seventeenth century.
Van Dyck depicted Anne Carey standing near the rocks. She wears a satin dress, trimmed with pearls, and her tucked sleeve shows a white undersleeve. Her curly hair is adorned with pearls. She also has pearl earrings and a necklace. Her eyes are big and brown and her lips are red. Lady Anne holds an airy dark-green scarf in her hands. The landscape is depicted in dark brown and grey colors, but the object’s dress stands out in its deep color that reminds viewers of the color of a night sea and makes the drawing alive.
Later Thomas Gainsborough adopted a similar rocky background for his portrait of Mrs. Peter William Baker which is also among the Frick’s collection portraits.
Among the last paintings that Henry Frick purchased was Lady Cecil Rice, Later Baroness Dynevor painted by Joshua Reynolds. Frick acquired Lady Cecil Rice in 1918 from Walter Rathbone, American capitalist. Reynolds represented Lady Rice in the nature landscape that harmonizes with her image. Satin dresses, sleeves, ribbons, and jewelry that are mostly pearls, are the evidence of Van Dyck’s style presence in Lady Rice’s portrait. Her dress that is as white as her skin is complemented with the pink pale roses that are fastened to her bodice. The same roses can be seen above Cecil’s left elbow. A dark cloak falls across her lap. Both the cloak and the dress make the image airy. She wears big pearl earrings. Her beautifully made brown hair is intertwined with pearls as well.
Frick’s life was never easy. He lost his five-year-old daughter and his son, who died in infancy. To a banker friend, Frick confined that buying pictures gave him more real pleasure than anything he had ever engaged in, outside business. Each painting in his selection is linked to one another through the thorough choice of the collector and his personal relationship with every painting. Henry Frick always knew that one day his collection would become a national treasure. Frick wanted his paintings to serve the public by encouraging and developing the study of the fine arts. He provided an endowment of $15,000,000 to be used for the maintenance and expansion of his collection “[f]or the use and benefit of all persons whomsoever,” Frick said in his will.
Bernice Davidson The Frick Collection An Illustrated Catalogue Paintings Volume I and II
Charles Ryskamp. Art in The Frick Collection Paintings Sculpture Decorative Arts, 1996
Colin B. Bailey. Building The Frick Collection An Introduction to the House and its Collections. Scala Publishers
“Duveen Pictures in Public Collections of America” New York, 1941, No.275
Edward Fowles. Memories of Duveen Brothers. Jean Fowles and Colin Simpson, 1976
Esmee Quodbach, “I want this collection to be my monument: Henry Clay Frick and the Formation of The Frick Collection” Journal of the History of Collections. Vol. 21, No. 2. 2009
James F.Cooper. “Henry Clay Frick and the Virtue of Art” Newlington-Cropsey Cultural Studies Center Art and Culture Now. Vol. 27, No.3. 2010
Joseph Focarino. The Frick Collection An Illustrated Catalogue Drawings, Prints, and Later Acquisitions. Volume IX. Princeton University Press 2003
Martha Frick. Henry Clay Frick An Intimate Portrait. Abbeville Press Inc.,1998
Quentin Skrabec. Henry Clay Frick. The Life of the Perfect Capitalist. McFarland and Company, Inc., Publishers, 2010
W. Roberts. The Whole Length English Portraits in The Frick Collection. Art in America,Vol.2, 1914
 James F.Cooper. “Henry Clay Frick and the Virtue of Art” Newlington-Cropsey Cultural Studies Center Art and Culture Now. Vol. 27, No.3. 2010
 Quentin Skrabec. Henry Clay Frick. The Life of the Perfect Capitalist. McFarland and Company, Inc., Publishers, 2010
 Martha Frick. Henry Clay Frick An Intimate Portrait. Abbeville Press Inc.,1998
 Martha Frick Henry Clay Frick An Intimate Portrait. Abbeville Press Inc., 1998
 Colin B. Bailey. Building The Frick Collection An Introduction to the House and its Collections. Scala Publishers
 Colin B. Bailey. Building The Frick Collection An Introduction to the House and its Collections. Scala Publishers, 2006
 “Duveen Pictures in Public Collections of America” New York, 1941, No.275
 Martha Frick. Henry Clay Frick An Intimate Portrait. Abbeville Press Inc.,1998
 Edward Fowles. Memories of Duveen Brothers. Jean Fowles and Colin Simpson, 1976
 W. Roberts. The Whole Length English Portraits in The Frick Collection. Art in America,Vol.2, 1914
 Bernice Davidson The Frick Collection An Illustrated Catalogue Paintings Volume I and II
 Esmee Quodbach, “I want this collection to be my monument: Henry Clay Frick and the Formstion of The Frick Collection” Journal of the History of Collections. Vol. 21, No. 2. 2009
 Joseph Focarino. The Frick Collection An Illustrated Catalogue Drawings, Prints, and Later Acquisitions. Volume IX. Princeton University Press 2003
 Charles Ryskamp. Art in The Frick Collection Paintings Sculpture Decorative Arts, 1996