Arts and Culture

The Frick Collections: Five Must-See Pieces of Art

Filed Under: New York

The multimillion-dollar mansion that is now The Frick Collection was once the private home of Henry Clay Frick. Upon his death, this private New York palace of art was turned into a public museum. Here are 5 must-see pieces that used to adorn the walls of 1 man's home.

Self-Portrait, 1658
Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn
Unlike some artists, Rembrandt was widely recognized for his talent during his lifetime. He achieved success at a young age as a celebrated portrait artist and is now considered one of the greatest painters and printmakers in European art history.

However, his older years were rife with personal tragedy. Rembrandt's wife died of tuberculosis and 3 of their 4 children died during infancy. Seeking some solace, Rembrandt began an affair with his surviving son's nanny -- a woman who betrayed him in the end by selling off his late wife's jewelry.

Rembrandt painted over 60 self-portraits during his life, but this "Self-Portrait" is generally considered to be his best. Just 2 years before painting it, Rembrandt was forced to sell all of his possessions and move to a small rented house. The sadness of his older years is clear in his dark-shadowed eyes, almost as if he cannot bear to look at himself.

The painting also acknowledges the opulence that led to Rembrandt's financial ruin. His imperial pose, regal costume and scepter-like stick are evidence of his opulent lifestyle. Excess, privilege and hardship all come together in this single masterpiece.

Diana the Huntress, 1776-1795
Jean-Antoine Houdon
Houdon was the best portrait sculptor of his time -- some may argue of all time. All Houdon's subjects were portrayed with unrivaled, lifelike precision. His subjects include some of the biggest names in history, including George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and Catherine the Great. Houdon's image of Thomas Jefferson was even used on the American nickel.

It was not the subject of this particular piece that caused such a splash, however. Diana was a popular subject with artists for thousands of years, but this was the first completely nude portrayal of the goddess. In 18th-century France, female full-frontal nudity was considered scandalous.

In fact, in 1829 when the Louvre purchased the piece, they removed much of the detail of the original anatomically correct body. Her elegance and suppleness remain and make Diana a must-see for any Frick patron.

The Progress of Love, 1771-1773
Jean-Honor�� Fragonard
The Progress of Love" was originally a series of 4 paintings commissioned by Madame Du Barry, a mistress of King Louis XV. Madame Du Barry hired the royal court's most decadent painter, Jean-Honor�� Fragonard, to tell a love story across 4 canvases.

The first canvas, "The Meeting," features the a young man climbing a ladder for a secret rendezvous; in the second, "The Pursuit," the young man jumps a wall to hand the young maiden a flower; "Love Letters" shows a moment of intimacy between the 2; and "Lovers Crowned" depicts the consummation of the relationship.

However, Madame Du Barry didn't hang the paintings; she returned them to Fragonard. Most art historians believe this was because the rococo art style had become old-fashioned and outdated.

Over a hundred years later in 1915, the museum's benefactor Henry Clay Frick bought "The Progress of Love" series for over $1 million. 

Lady Hamilton at Nature, 1782
George Romney
The young woman featured in this painting had many names. Born Amy Lyons, the daughter of a blacksmith, she abandoned her family at age 12, seeking an entrance into high society. Upon her arrival in London, she changed her name to Emma Hart. Her goal to become the mistress of a wealthy and powerful man was realized when she met Charles Grenville. It was Grenville who first hired George Romney to capture Emma's beauty on canvas. Shortly thereafter, Emma would become Lady Hamilton after leaving Grenville for Sir William Hamilton.

Emma became Romney's muse. "Lady Hamilton at Nature" was the first of more than 20 portraits Romney would paint of her. He continued to paint Emma even after Hamilton moved her to his Naples estate. After her move, Romney fell into a deep depression and his career gradually declined. But in Lady Hamilton as Nature, his love for her is clear, as is the beauty that stimulated this young woman's social climb.

The Rehearsal, 1878-1879
Edgar Degas
During the late 1800s, Degas created over 600 artworks featuring ballerinas; it is undeniably what he is best-known for. What you may not know, however, is that Degas was a self-proclaimed realist and wanted his art to reflect the gritty truth of the ballet. In this painting the violinist appears divorced from the events surrounding him. His age and stolid form provide a stark contrast to the femininity of the ballerinas.

However, the dancers pictured here are far from doll-like. Their rough look indicates a little-known fact -- most of them grew up in poverty and earned a meager salary as dancers. Many became mistresses to wealthy male solicitors with subscriptions to the Parisian ballet. The subscriptions granted these men access backstage and to rehearsals, and "The Rehearsal" might even be painted from their point of view.

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