The very first museum I explored on my trip to New York City is a bit of an odd one, an historic house kind of museum that’s not overly old at all but has some surprising secrets. Built in 1913-1914, the house that was to become The Frick Collection was still the residence of steel magnate Henry C. Frick. It opened to the public as a museum in 1935.
A fun fact to kick this adventure off: Frick’s house served as the inspiration for the home of another, albeit fictional, magnate with a metallurgical association and his famous friends. Any ideas?
It’s the Golden Avenger himself, Tony Stark, also known as Iron Man. Long before the Avengers moved their base to Stark Tower, they lived in Avenger’s Mansion, which sometimes looks uncannily like Frick’s palatial pad. Seeing as Stan Lee, the co-creator of the major players in the Marvel Universe is a New Yorker it’s not too surprising to see that he drew inspiration from the bustling metropolis around him.
But back to the museum-y aspects of the trip, the Frick is a very interesting little place. For a start, they don’t have too many ropes protecting the paintings on display. At first sight this is a really nice touch, “It’s OK to have a close look” it says, “Go on, really examine it” is the suggestion. The downside to this is that they use it as a reason to not admit children under ten. I’ve written about this before, when discussing the “children in museums” debate.
I stand by the points I made in the previous post.
The audio guide makes much of the eye-watering prices paid for the pieces the museum displays. After learning of the shocking amount of money that changed hands, I couldn’t help but wonder if Frick collected for the sake of art, or for the sake of the status that came with owning such high-value assets? He may have been a collector, but I’m not entirely convinced that he crossed the line into connoisseur.
Consider this; the museum displays a pair of paintings, nigh on identical. One purchased by Frick and the other by someone else. One is a later copy with additional details and one is a very rare example of a religious paining worth a more-than-small fortune. Frick did not purchase the latter. But then, maybe he just bought it because he liked it?
The Frick has a very limited picture-taking policy; you can only do so in the Garden Court. I didn’t notice any stated reason for this, but I can guess it has something to do with protecting the pictures from the fiendish flash and perhaps ‘revenue protection’ too – who’ll buy a postcard of the piece when they can just snap a snappy snap?
Restrictive photograph policies are the bane of my museum adventuring. Unless there is a good reason. Just for the record ‘revenue protection’ is not a good reason.
There’s no denying the beauty of this magnificent Manhattan manse, but as you’re guided through the gallery space it’s sometimes hard to remember that someone really did live here. Although sometimes we can almost glimpse a piece of the personality that assembled this collection in the art, it’s things like the secret subterranean bowling alley that really tell you all you need to know.
Alas, the bowling alley isn’t open to the general public, but if you donate $2500 then you might be able to arrange a tour.
You can find out all you need to know about visiting The Frick Collection on their website.