The Frick Collection

Edification value
Entertainment value
Should you go?
Time spent 125 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned Contemporary critics weren’t always kind to JMW Turner, accusing him of being “unrealistic” and using “blinding” light effects. So he painted the story of Regulus, a Roman general who was captured by Carthage and (among other tortures) had his eyelids cut out and was forced to stare at the sun until he was blinded, before being killed. Turner painted a port where you can barely make out Regulus, and dominating the painting is light, light light.  Touche, Turner.

UPDATE APRIL 2021: The Frick Collection’s 5th Avenue mansion is closed for the next several years for a major renovation. The good news is Mr. Frick’s art has an temporary home in the old Whitney Building, the former Met Breuer, giving it a chance to recontextualize the art and juxtapose and present its art in exciting new ways. I’ll be writing about it soon, I hope. Spoiler alert: I love it!

This is going to be a hard one to write.  I’ve been going to the Frick Collection regularly for over 20 years.  I’m a member there.  It’s my second favorite museum in New York City (the Cloisters is number one).  Everyone needs to go to the Frick Collection. 

Henry Clay Frick may have been a plutocrat industrialist, but he had such an eye for art.  And the Frick, like the Gardner in Boston or the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia, is his collection of art, much of it hung as he liked it, in rooms that were his rooms, now open to the public. 

The Frick has a lot more flexibility than either of those other two venerable institutions, though, it continues to collect and occasionally rearranges at least some of its pieces, and puts on special exhibitions, including the current one on JMW Turner’s port scenes.

Garden Courtyard, The Frick CollectionI love the Frick because the collection covers a wide span of European art history, and yet everything in it is beautiful and well chosen.  Even pieces I am not inclined to like, in that context, in that environment, I like.  I always leave the Frick feeling a little more lighthearted,  a little better, than I did when I arrived.  After I read Wolf Hall, I happened to visit the Frick, and saw Holbein’s paintings of Thomas Cromwell and St. Thomas More for the umpteenth time (they’ve always been there), and yet also for the first time. Whistlers, Turners, Rembrandts,  the best Vermeers in New York.

It’s the right size, it’s still resolutely a house-turned-museum, albeit a super-grand house.  It’s got beautiful gardens around it, and an interior garden court to sit in and contemplate, and a tiny recital space for musical performances (and the “About the Frick” video). It’s quirky and special and intimate and outside of blockbuster exhibitions, it’s serene as well. There’s plans afoot to expand and add a cafe and more space, but I kind of hope they keep it just exactly as it is.