Sunday 2 May 2021

Frick Madison Opens in New York

One of the highlights at Frick Madison, is this striking portrait by Sir Thomas Lawrence of the fashionably-dressed Julia, Lady Peel (1827). The Frick Collection, New York. Photograph: Michael Bodycomb
New York's Frick Collection is now housed at Marcel Breuer's signature Mid-Century Brutalist building. Called Frick Madison, it is the museum's temporary home for the next two years while the historic Gilded Age mansion undergoes an extensive renovation, reports Antonio Visconti 

The hulking form of Marcel Breuer's
Brutalist mid-century building
that houses the Frick Madison 
Photograph: Joe Coscia
THE opening of Frick Madison in New York is the first time the Frick Collection has been seen outside the walls of its elegant Manhattan mansion at 1 East 70th Street. The collection's new home features masterpieces from the museum including works by Bellini, Gainsborough, Goya, Holbein, Ingres, Rembrandt, Titian, Turner, Velázquez, Vermeer and Whistler.

Rehousing the collection at Frick Madison has allowed the curators to design dramatic new installations to show the art works. They have also been able to display rarely seen paintings, such as the series by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, that have never been shown together. 

The Frick Madison is situated at 945 Madison Avenue at 75th Street. The striking  Brutalist building was designed in 1966 by Bauhaus architect Marcel Breuer and was originally commissioned by the Whitney Museum of American Art. 

“We are thrilled that the public can continue to enjoy these great works of art from our collections during a time when they otherwise would be inaccessible as we renovate and enhance our home at 1 East 70th Street," says Ian Wardropper, the Frick's director. "The minimalism of Marcel Breuer’s mid-century architecture provides a unique backdrop for our Old Masters, and the result is an experience  that our public is sure to find engaging and thought-provoking.”

Frick Madison features highlights from the collection including works by Bellini, Goya, Gainsborough, Rembrandt, Titian, Turner, Velázquez, Vermeer and Whistler

James McNeill Whistler's
Symphony in Flesh Colour
and Pink: Portrait of 
Mrs Frances Leyland (1871)
The Frick Collection, New York
Photograph; Joe Coscia
Marcel Breuer’s austere stone and concrete building is a very different museum experience compared to visiting the Frick’s elegant Beaux Arts mansion. The Frick's curators have tried to use the Modernist setting as an opportunity to present the collection in a new way.

However, the design of the gallery spaces at Frick Madison reflect the museum’s traditional emphasis on a more personal experience of art and architecture. 

Instead of replicating the mansion’s domestic display, the new installation emphasizes Breuer's architecture and its forms and materials. It is stark and without the familial warmth of the Frick mansion but it is nevertheless interesting to see the works in a new  context. 

The renovation and expansion of the Frick Collection's elegant mansion is the first for more than eighty-five years. Selldorf Architects say they want to honor the architectural legacy and unique character of the Frick while offering greater access to the original 1914 home of Henry Clay Frick.

The architects are planning to preserve the beloved galleries for which the Frick is known. However, it will be interesting to see if this is the eventual outcome. Often comprehensive renovations destroy the soul and atmosphere of historic buildings. The architects say the new design will also add more spaces for permanent collection displays and special exhibitions, conservation, education and public programs. 

The renovation and expansion of the Frick Collection's Gilded Age mansion is the first for more than eighty-five years.

Bellini's St Francis in the Desert.
one of the Frick's most beloved works  
lit by Marcel Breuer's trapezoidal window.
Photograph: Joe Coscia

The hulking Frick Madison building, has retained the signature trapezoid windows designed by Marcel Breuer  and these provide a contrasting background for the collection's masterpieces. 

Bellini’s St. Francis in the Desert is considered to be the greatest Renaissance painting in America and it is one of the most prized at the Frick. 

Today, the painting can be seen next to a  deep-set Breuer window, which allows the natural light of Manhattan to merge with the divine light depicted in the painting. 

Visitors are able to see the work and contemplate the complexities of meanings hidden within this cool, spartan space. The original position the painting held in the mansion, dominating a wall in the Living Hall, showed its importance to Henry Clay Frick. 

“From the very beginning we sought to marry our holdings with Marcel Breuer’s great modernist building, with the intention of revealing the Frick’s strengths in a new way, while inspiring fresh conversations and observations," comments Xavier F. Salomon, deputy director and Peter Jay Sharp Chief Curator.

"Throughout the installation, we’ve maintained the core value of the Frick experience: offering visitors the opportunity to study works of art in a direct and immediate way, surrounded by a beautiful and peaceful environment. Rather than trying to recreate the rooms of the mansion, we celebrate this architectural icon, hoping audiences emerge with new understandings of both its features and spaces, and of our remarkable and very distinct collection.” 

"The minimalism of Marcel Breuer’s mid- century architecture is a unique backdrop for our Old Masters, providing an engaging and thought-provoking experience."

Hans Holbein the Younger's iconic 
portrait of Sir Thomas Moore, (1527)
The Frick Collection, New York
Photograph: Michael Bodycomb

Three floors of the Breuer building are devoted to the collection with the paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts organized by time period, geographic region and media. 

There are galleries dedicated to Northern European, Italian, Spanish, British and French art and with some rooms featuring individual artists. The layout highlights the Frick's strengths in particular schools and genres 

The curators hope the new installation will reveal unexpected relationships between subjects and artists and the different mediums of art works.

Holbein’s iconic portraits of Sir Thomas More and Thomas Cromwell hang together, alone, without other works; here the famously oppositional figures  confront each other in a way that was not possible at the mansion. 

On the second floor, Northern European paintings represent modern-day Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. These works share the characteristics of
precision and highly naturalistic depictions of their subjects, ranging from Memling’s and Holbein’s contemporary sitters to Van Eyck’s and David’s religious figures to Bruegel’s sinewy soldiers. 

Three stunning paintings by Rembrandt, his Self-Portrait, that of Nicolaes Ruts, and the enigmatic Polish Rider, are shown side by side. Nearby are the Frick’s three Vermeers, genre scenes of men and women presented within domestic interiors. These panels are seldom shown in such unmediated proximity, and here surround you on three walls. 

The curators hope the new installation will reveal unexpected relationships between subjects and artists and different media

Three of eight portraits by Van Dyck,
exhibited at  Frick Madison
Photograph: Joe Coscia
For the first time, the Frick's collection 
of eight full and half-length portraits by Van Dyck, spanning all periods and geographic locations of his oeuvre, are displayed together in one room. 

Portraits by Frans Hals are presented nearby, in addition to landscapes by Hobbema and Ruysdael, which evoke the lyrical beauty of the countryside of the Low Countries.

One floor above, the Italian and Spanish schools are displayed. Diminutive gold ground panels by early Italian religious artists including Cimabue, Duccio, and Piero della Francesca come together in a smaller, more intimate gallery. Such panels are found in very few collections across the United States and particularly represent the taste of Helen Clay Frick, the daughter of the museum’s founder and founder of the Frick Art Reference Library and a longtime Trustee of the institution. 

In a central cross-shaped space, there are the grand Renaissance works collected by Henry Clay Frick, including paintings by Titian, Bronzino and Veronese. The monumental pair of canvases by Veronese has left the walls of the Frick’s West Gallery only once during the past century. 

For the first time, the Frick’s eight portraits by Van Dyck are displayed together in one room. 

One of the great 18th century pastel artists,
Rosalba Carriera's Portrait of a Man
in Pilgrim's Costume (1730-1750).
The Frick Collection, New York
Photograph: Michael Bodycomb
The display of Italian work continues on this floor with Venetian eighteenth-century paintings by Guardi and Tiepolo. Two recent acquisitions are also on view: a stunning pair of portraits by Rosalba Carriera, one of the most important eighteenth-century pastel artists, who worked in Venice. 

Finally, an unprecedented arrangement of nine Spanish paintings by Velázquez, Murillo, El Greco, and Goya ~ works typically scattered throughout the mansion ~ shows Henry Clay Frick’s great interest in Spanish masters. 

There are also fine English landscapes by two great masters of the genre  ~ Constable and Turner ~ together representing a critical moment in early nineteenth-century British painting. 

Constable’s naturalistic, nostalgic depiction of the English countryside contrasts with Turner’s bustling French harbors. Frick Madison's installation offers a distillation of the period, when these contemporaries attempted to define modern painting, offering profoundly opposing approaches. 

On the fourth floor of the Breuer building, visitors will find the work of British and French artists, represented through Henry Clay Frick’s love of portraiture, landscape painting, and sculpture. Paintings from the British School are by far the best represented in the Frick’s holdings, a fact that was not as apparent until now, since previously these works were dispersed throughout various rooms of the historic mansion. 

Two recent acquisitions are on view: a stunning pair of portraits by Rosalba Carriera, an  important eighteenth-century Venetian artist

The Frick Collection has striking works 
of British portraiture, including the two  
paintings above by Reynolds, flanking  
a view of Constable's White Horse 
 Photograph: Joe Coscia
Hung together at Frick Madison for the first time, seven canvases by Gainsborough (the largest collection of the artist in any New York Museum) are shown alongside portraits by Hogarth, Lawrence, Reynolds, and Romney, together representing nearly one hundred years of remarkable British portraiture. 

Another gallery on this level features four, full-length portraits by American-born James McNeil Whistler, the London-based artist who is the best represented in the Frick’s holdings. 

These works, loved by New Yorkers, have often been relegated to storage to make room for major special exhibitions, an issue the renovation will solve with the addition of a new gallery.  

The fourth floor also offers a focused look at the Frick’s French works, represented by eighteenth-century artists Boucher, Chardin, Greuze, and Fragonard. Of particular note are the fourteen paintings of Fragonard’s Progress of Love series, now displayed together for the first time in the museum’s history. 

There are also three decorative panels of hollyhocks, which have been in storage much of the time since Mr. Frick purchased the cycle for his home in 1915. At Frick Madison the series is displayed to reflect its history, as it was created during two distinct campaigns, twenty years apart. The initial four canvases (1771–72) are shown for the first time in the original sequence envisioned by the artist when they were commissioned by Louis XV’s mistress Madame du Barry. 

The seven canvases by Gainsborough are hung together and represent the largest grouping of his paintings ever shown in any New York museum

Four grand panels of Fragonard's
Progress of Love series
shown at the Frick Madison,
illuminated by another of
Marcel Breuer's spectacular
trapezoidal windows.
Photograph: Joe Coscia
They are shown in a gallery approximately the same size as their intended home outside Paris, overlooking not the Seine River but Madison Avenue, illuminated by another one of Breuer’s large, deep windows. 

In an adjacent room are the ten canvases painted by Fragonard twenty years after the original four, together in an arrangement that was never possible in the mansion, owing to space constraints. 

Punctuating this installation is a dramatic wall that gathers together the full set of Fragonard’s cupid-themed overdoors. 

Succeeding generations of French masters including Ingres, David and others are featured in another gallery. A Barbizon landscape by Corot leads to the final gallery that displays some of the most modern works in the collection, Manet’s Bullfight and Impressionist canvases by Degas, Monet, and Renoir.

While the Frick is home to one of the most significant collections of sculpture and decorative arts in the United States, interest in the collection has been dominated by the paintings in its lavish reception rooms. Within the context of the mansion, the Frick’s impressive sculpture can sometimes be perceived merely as decorative when viewed head-on in front of a painting, while its decorative arts collection can go unnoticed. 

At Frick Madison, sculpture and decorative arts are presented independently, as works of art in their own right. To highlight the importance of these works, the first object the visitor encounters on each floor of Frick Madison is a sculpture. 

The Frick is home to one of the most significant collections of sculpture and decorative arts in the United States 

Jean Barbet, Angel, (1475)
Second floor of Frick Madison, 
the temporary new home 
of the Frick Collection.  
Photograph: Joe Coscia 
On the second floor, which is dedicated to Northern European art, the Barbet Angel is given centre stage in a room of its own. Often overlooked amid the lush plantings of the Garden Court, the Angel is one of the Frick’s most famed works and possibly the only monumental fifteenth-century French bronze sculpture in existence, as most large French metalwork from that period was melted down during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. 

Cast by a cannon maker, the Barbet Angel stands atop a column, which invites visitors to move around it, to enjoy and appreciate the sculpture from all sides. Installed at Frick Madison, the Angel provides a new introduction to the collection, as well as showing the importance of its sculptures. 

 A third-floor gallery is dedicated entirely to works in bronze. Straying from the sparseness of the Frick Madison display, this space evokes a fifteenth studiolo and features a selection of the finest bronzes acquired by Henry Clay Frick from J. P. Morgan’s estate in 1916.

At the Frick mansion on East 70th Street, bronze statuettes have often been displayed to ornament the furniture; at Frick Madison, they are arranged in dialogue with each other, enabling visitors to study them closely. 

Also on prominent view for the first time is Francesco da Sangallo’s St. John, the artist’s only signed bronze and the only such statuette at the Frick that was made to decorate a church. Designed to crown a marble font in Santa Maria delle Carceri in Prato (near Florence), the statuette is shown at Frick Madison in a way not attempted in the residential backdrop of the mansion.

The third floor includes a series of galleries devoted to decorative artworks, curated in dramatic displays quite different to the domestic setting in which they are usually seen at the mansion. Concentrated groupings of clocks and Limoges enamels offer a fresh focus on lesser-known collections from the Frick’s holdings. Another space features prized seventeenth-century Indian carpets, not shown on the floor as “furnishings,” but hung on the wall in the manner of paintings nearby. 

Jean Barbet's Angel is one of the Frick’s most prized works and possibly the only monumental fifteenth-century French bronze sculpture in existence

A dramatic display of European 
and Asian porcelain (c.1500-1900).
with an 18th century 
French cabinet below.
Photograph: Joe Coscia
Particularly arresting is a gallery displaying floor-to-ceiling porcelain organized by color, rather than by function, origin or the date of manufacture. This presentation shows how strongly influenced European firms such as Meissen and Du Paquier were by earlier and contemporary Asian wares. 

The confluence of East and West is further amplified by Baroque furniture. Examples by Boulle and the van Riesenburghs feature ebony, tortoiseshell, and repurposed Japanese lacquerware, materials available through emerging global trade networks. 

 Also on the fourth floor are several fine examples of important French eighteenth-century furniture and ceramics, including the stunning fall-front desk and commode made for Marie- Antoinette by royal cabinetmaker Riesener, often overlooked in the mansion by the nearby Vermeers. And a remarkable marble and gilt-bronze table by Gouthière that is normally overwhelmed in the mansion display by the Ingres portrait, traditionally installed above it.  

This installation also shows several of the museum’s most important examples of early Sèvres porcelain, including the recently acquired Vase Japon and a pair of candelabra by Gouthière. 

The Frick Madison allows New Yorkers, and those travelling from further afield, to see a vividly and thoughtfully curated collection of both the Frick's masterpieces and rarely-seen works, in a spectacular mid-century building. It is an experience not to be missed.

 Frick Madison is located at 945 Madison Avenue at 75th Street, New York, NY 10021. Museum Hours: Thursday ~ Sunday, 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.; closed Monday ~ Wednesday. 

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