Thursday, 5 May 2011

Frick Museum, New York City

The Frick Museum, New York, USA. For further details visit By Larissa Woolf, Arts Editorial Contributor

The Frick museum is one of my favourite museums in New York. It houses a spectacular collection of Old Masters paintings by major European artists. It includes also some superb eighteenth century furniture and porcelain, Limoges enamels, oriental rugs and other works. Founded by Henry Clay Frick , the Pittsburgh coke and steel industrialist, the collection is vast and eclectic As soon as you walk into its doors there is a feeling of calm and serenity, the oak panelled walls and beautiful courtyard with the sound of the fountain lends to the unique atmosphere of this former residence on 5th Avenue overlooking Central Park. Artists such as Rembrandt, Tiepolo, Ingres, El Greco, Vermeer can be seen, to name but a few.

One of the most attesting paintings at the museum is Giovanni Bellini’s painting, ‘St Francis’. We see St Fancis of Assissi transfixed as he receives Christ’s stigmata and the transcendental light captured by the painter is fabulous. The shepherd and the donkey seem to be oblivious to what is going on which adds to the uniqueness of the piece. It is a painting of incredible spiritual force and the greatest Renaissance painting in the United States and the best preserved.

Of the many works on display is the famous painting by Hans Holbein the Younger of Thomas More. Hans Holbein came to London in 1526 and was introduced to Thomas More by Erasmus. At the time of painting More was Lord Chancellor but he refused the Supremacy of the King and so was beheaded in 1535. We have here an evocation of one man’s mind and character. His resilience and inner convictions shine through and Holbein has painted a portrait with immense detail such as More’s stubble and the velvet sleeves of his robe. One can really feel More’s strength of character shine through the painting.

Likewise Jan Vermeer’s portrait, ‘Mistress and Maid’ is equally riveting. We see the class distinction between mistress and maid and the tension between the two women is almost palpable. The subject matter – that of the maid handing a letter to her mistress – means that the two women become almost equals in the sharing of illicit information. Vermeer was a master of light and the subtle effects of it can be seen in his rendering of the lady and the objects on the table. It is truly a masterpiece.

Another of the highlights in the museum is a superb portrait by Ingres of the Comtesse d’Haussonville. An aristocrat, she was the mother of three children but was also a liberal and published books. The painting took him three years to paint and brilliantly catches the provocative, beguiling expression on the Comtesse’s face and her quiet confidence.

I highly recommend a visit to the Frick museum – it is not be missed! - and leave lots of time to take in the countless masterpieces that are there to be seen.

For further details on visiting museums in New York, USA visit

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