At 70th Street and 5th Avenue in Manhattan is the Henry Clay Frick Museum, and it is one of New York City’s best kept secrets. This gorgeous building was once the home of Mr. and Mrs. Frick in the early twentieth century, and it is one of the city’s last Gilded Age mansions still intact. “The Frick,” as it is known, houses the steel tycoon’s incredible collection of art which includes 3 very rare Vermeers, several Rembrandts, and representatives from every important era of art, but, particularly Old Masters. Mr. Frick’s genius in collecting art was equaled by his ability to build an amazingly beautiful home for his wife and family.
Now, it is a small, lovely and very accessible museum that even many New Yorkers don’t know about or visit. It is also home to some very interesting visiting exhibits like the current “Renaissance and Baroque Bronzes from the Janine and J. Tomilson Hill’s Collection.”
These small bronze sculptures, many are less than a foot tall, were frequently gifts from one visiting head of state to another during the Renaissance and Baroque periods. They most often feature the human figure in dynamic poses usually modeling a classical theme, but a significant portion of the Hill’s assemblage are of religious subjects with a focus on the life of Christ. Those pieces that are religious are inspiring and incredibly engaging on many levels.
All these statuettes are so arresting and approachable that as I walked through the Frick’s downstairs gallery where the sculptures primarily featured mythological themes , I could easily imagine many of the pieces in my home. I fell in love with one sculpture of Ceres and Bacchus. Their poses and their faces were so friendly that you could feature them guaranteeing perpetual food, wine and love. Just looking at the pair, which were probably cast in bronze sometime between 1635 and 1640 by the Baroque sculpture Ferdinando Tacca, makes you happy. I told my husband as we were looking at the statuette, “I want them in our dining room in Dallas. They would be perfect, wouldn’t they? They would make everyone that saw them feel good and glad that they had come to our house. They would grace every meal.” While not envious, I could envision how much Mr. and Mrs. Hill must enjoy owning them.
In all there are thirty three sculptures on display in 3 different galleries two downstairs and one upstairs. This is the first time that the whole collection has been shown at one time. What is really interesting is that the bronzes are being presented with various Old Masters and even contemporary paintings also owned by the Hills. The juxtaposition of the different eras of art is absolutely intriguing, and it underscores the power of the contribution of each discipline and each period of history.
At first, you are shocked to see Cy Twombly’s and Ed Rushca’s non-objective and extremely contemporary canvases next to these statues from the early 16th to the 18th centuries, but look again, and you see what a cogent statement they make, and how very logical the pairings are. The contemporary two dimensional pieces with their almost monochromatic color themes highlight the beauty and patina of the bronze casting of the three dimensional ones. A very wise person once said, “all great design is of an era,” meaning great design goes together no matter if you are pairing ancient Greek pottery with the furniture of Mies van der Rohe. If objects are well designed, they compliment one another no matter when they were made and they work well together in a single setting.
This point is made once more so powerfully with the erudition of the Hill’s collection. The same truth is mirrored with extreme skill in amassing every piece in the entire Frick collection. You see so clearly how this jewel of an aggregation of art fits within this jewel box of a museum. Great paintings, sculptures, architecture along with the decorative arts all form an unforgettable visual experience at the Frick.
This exhibit runs until June 15, 2014, and if you are in NYC in the next couple of months treat yourself to a visit to both the Frick’s general galleries and this special exhibit, and let your imagination run free. As you move about The Frick, fantasize about living there in this mansion. I do every time that I go. I bet you think you could be happy there. I know that I do. Once you know about the Frick, you will understand why it is the favorite of so many art lovers.
Another jewel box of a museum in NYC is the J.P.Morgan Library, but I will write about that another time. The Morgan is not only a great place to visit art and literature. It is also a great place for lunch, but, as I said, we will save that for another edition of Prime Women.
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