The Frick Pittsburgh is a unique museum. Set in a five-acre garden estate in the city’s East End, it comprises The Frick Art Museum (which opened in 1970), the Frick family’s Gilded Age home, Clayton (opened to the public in 1990), and the Car and Carriage Museum (opened in 1997), as well as several other noteworthy historic buildings, and some more recent additions including visitor, community, and education centers (opened 2015).
Although not formally affiliated with The Frick Collection in New York City, both museums share their origins in the collecting and connoisseurship of two remarkable individuals: Henry Clay Frick (1849–1919) and his daughter Helen Clay Frick (1888–1984). The Frick family retains a close interest in—and sits on the boards of—both institutions. The Frick Pittsburgh, however, is a much younger museum than its sister institution in New York, having only been fully operational since the opening of Clayton in 1990. It is a museum that has been evolving and is only now reaching maturity. It is a timely opportunity for this publication. The purpose of this guide is, for the first time, to provide an overview of all of the Frick’s collections and highlight some of the most outstanding works in them. It supersedes a guide to the collections of The Frick Art Museum published in 1975 and a guidebook that focused on the site’s buildings first published in 1993.
The Frick has a reputation for being a “hidden gem” in the cultural landscape of Pittsburgh and this could be especially said of the collection, which contains some remarkable pieces of world-class significance. It includes many works that were acquired by Henry Clay Frick early in his calling as a collector, including some pieces—exceptional Chinese ceramics and Italian Renaissance bronzes among them—acquired from the partial dispersal of the collection of another avaricious art buyer, J. Pierpont Morgan. Frick’s early interest in the French Barbizon School is reflected in a number of works, including a very fine group of Millet pastels. However the bulk of the fine art collection is the result of the interests and connoisseurship of his daughter Helen, notably her love of Italian Renaissance panel paintings and French eighteenth-century painting, furniture, and decorative arts.
The quirky nature of collecting and personal taste is also apparent in a number of major works that fall outside these parameters, including some important English portraits that hung at the Frick’s mansion, Eagle Rock, in Massachusetts (demolished 1969) and the quite exceptional Rubens that graces the cover of this book. Clayton is rightly considered to be one of the best-preserved Gilded Age mansions in America. Thanks to the continuing attention of Helen Clay Frick, the contents of the house are almost all original to its period of family occupation from the 1890s to the early 1900s and the Clayton collections add considerable depth and texture to the collection overall, as well as providing an insight into the history and taste of an extraordinary period of Pittsburgh’s history. The unique group of family carriages preserved at the Frick add yet another layer to the social history of the site. The collection of early automobiles—generously gifted by Pittsburgh businessman and philanthropist, G. Whitney Snyder—allows this story to continue into the early twentieth century, and emphasizes the dynamic nature of an age that is often seen as preserved in amber.
The essays in this guide—by Director of Curatorial Affairs, Sarah Hall, and Associate Curator of Decorative Arts, Dawn Reid Brean—offer both an overview and history of the development of the collection and a more in-depth consideration of the contents of Clayton. They are followed by a selection of 75 noteworthy works from the collection with short descriptions. These have been selected not only for their quality and significance, but to emphasize the range and diversity of the Frick’s collections.
The Frick is not a static institution and continues to evolve, benefiting from the varied cultural, historic, and artistic experiences available on our storied campus. The collection will also continue to evolve, building in areas of strength and depth, as well as through a process of editing and refinement, to continue the pursuit of art and beauty that characterized Henry and Helen Clay Frick throughout their lives.
Text by Robin Robin Nicholson, Director