‘In 1905 what did Mr Frick say to Mrs Frick’ or ‘from Steel Magnate to Art Collector’

“Well Adelaide, the railroads are laid, the unions are giving me grief. Let’s hit New York!”  So together they uprooted themselves from the steel industry in Pittsburgh and went house hunting on the fashionable upper east side of New York.

Like me, Henry and Adelaide loved the area bordering Central Park.  Unlike me they had an art collection in tow and several million in the bank.   They hung out with the Vanderbilts who leased their mansion to the Fricks. Eventually Mr and Mrs Frick built their own mansion just around the corner at the most prestigious address in New York.

Their amassed works of art had already been freighted across the country and with more acquisitions they built their own home.  No ordinary home mind you.  They composed a beautiful outdoor atrium from which all 6 galleries led.  At the centre of their mansion this space held an enormous fountain, palm trees and exotic orchids.  The floor was paved in marble.  By the time Henry had his art collection laid out he realized he’d begun to develop a priceless legacy but with no children of his own he documented that Adelaide and her daughter could remain in residence until his wife’s death.  On Adelaide’s death the house and art would become a public museum.

Turners are hung alongside Rembrandts.  Monets are peacefully settled among Gainsborough and Stubbs.  Holbein’s peasants prepare feasts opposite Vemeer’s studies of man and his best friend.  There is no hint of art school curated fine arts here.  And yet it is far away from an incoherent jumble of misplaced works of art.   It is told how Frick hung the paintings in a system that pleased his eye, one gallery leading into another connected by a mixture of the old masters that pleased him.  After dinner in the evenings he would stroll through the galleries and one imagines with a glass of fine brandy held at his lips.