There is one place that to me is indispensable for visitors to Manhattan...and for locals hardly any less. It's the Frick Collection located at Fifth Avenue and 70th St., on the Upper East Side. Henry Clay Frick had a sharp eye for art and furnishings together with the funds to back it up. He gathered his purchases together and built an elegant building to shelter and display them.
Unlike vast New York City museums like the Metropolitan or the Modern Art, the Frick Collection resides in a mansion on a ground floor plus small gallery spaces in the basement. (Offices are upstairs, away from the public.) The Collection unfolds in spacious rooms with high, carved ceilings, elegantly draped windows—and guards whose demeanor complement the refinement of the rooms. Visitors can rest in a quiet, plant-filled atrium inside and view a garden without. The Frick is a place to linger awhile or feel uplifted with a visit of only an hour or so.
Mr. Frick, counseled by advisors, acquired large quantities of early paintings, furniture and sculpture from France, Italy, the Netherlands, Germany, and Spain. You can become acquainted or re-acquainted with paintings of Vermeer, Rembrandt, Holbein, Veronese, Goya, van Dyck, and others including a few Americans such as Whistler. What unites them is quality; each item represents the best of its genre. Everything has been placed in five or six rooms and rarely moved; they become familiar hosts to those who know the Collection, reliably waiting just where you expect them to be.
To supplement the Collection, the Frick sponsors a series of recitals and lectures, and has stocked its bookstore, small of size, with an array of hard-to-find books. Like many New York museums (and unlike many museums elsewhere), visitors pay a relatively high entrance, though with an annual fee and even a low-level membership, one enters free anytime. Audio guides in multiple languages are provided free. There is no restaurant or café.
At the moment, and until mid-January, the Frick boasts a small, choice exhibit of paintings of the Dutch artists Vermeer, Rembrandt and Hals, on loan from a museum under renovation in The Hague. It's popular enough that tickets for timed entry are required for all but members. The Frick’s permanent collection includes three Vermeer paintings, supplemented for a while with the famous Girl with the Pearl Earring, making the total on display a sizable percentage of the relatively few that Vermeer painted.
The Frick is located directly across Fifth Avenue from Central Park; different though what they offer, both are places to go for solace and restoring the soul. I visit the Frick—it’s tempting to say drop in--three or four times a year. I know that even a brief time browsing the rooms, recognizing familiar paintings like old friends, and resting in the atrium, will leave me feeling enriched. Part of the fun for me in leaving is the anticipation of coming back.
His wealth once gotten, through whatever means, Henry Frick left New York City one of its most beloved treasures.
Stanley Ely, www.stanleyely.com.
The Frick Collection
1 East 70th Street (between Fifth and Madison Avenues)
New York, NY 10021