Henry Clay Frick (1849–1919) was an industrial magnate, who made a fortune in steel. During his life, he was an avid collector of fine and decorative arts dating from the Renaissance to the 19th century. Upon his death, his home became a museum open to the public. However, The Frick Collection is not merely an assemblage of artworks. As a former home, it reflects the values and tastes of New York aristocrats in the early 20th century.
Frick built an impressive collection of European paintings from the 17th and 18th centuries, including a self-portrait of Rembrandt and a portrait of King Philip IV of Spain by Velazquez. Interspersed with these fabulous oil paintings in the galleries are 16th century Italian walnut chests, heavily carved, known as cassoni. In another wing, there is an 18th century French interior, with Louis XV style furniture and giant wall paintings by French artist Fragonard. In the dining room, 18th century English furniture is displayed with Chinese vases. The adjacent room has more 17th and 18th century European furniture contrasted with Chinese porcelains. These priceless treasures were considered the finest antiques when Frick obtained those 100 years ago. Today, they have the added luster of not only additional age, but also the Frick provenance. This remarkable collection is a tribute to the good taste, passion for collecting, and of course, deep pockets of one of the leading figures of America’s Gilded Age.
For those considering a visit, by all means do so. The fact that this museum was Frick’s own home provides an amazing glimpse into the lavish lifestyle of one of the richest tycoons of 100 years ago and visitors are able to gain insight into the mindset and values of that time.