Seated on Fifth Avenue, overlooking the southeastern corner of Central Park, is a modest estate that exudes a captivating sense of quiet grandeur. On the outside, the Henry Clay Frick House reveals little of the dazzling treasures it contains. The building has a simple, beige exterior embellished with few decorative touches and you can easily bypass it without a second glance. But if you look again, the mansion’s garden reveals a peaceful oasis in the chaos of metropolitan New York. A glistening lily pond reflects the sunlight onto the vibrant foliage in this rare escape from the bustle of city life. It was these glistening lily pads that drew me to the subtle beauty of the estate, inviting me into a world of mesmerizing masterpieces unlike any I have ever seen before.
Upon entering, a welcoming serenity washed over me. The rumble of cars and subway trains suddenly faded away with the closing of the heavy oak doors. The beautiful, melodious tinkling of a distant fountain resonated in its place. The garden courtyard beckoned visitors with the sound of trickling water and the abundance of lush vegetation. Being the only space that allows photography, the courtyard was filled with visitors capturing the perfect Instagram-worthy photo in this miniature Eden.
The highlight gallery space in the enormous complex is the West Gallery. Henry Clay Frick designed the room for the purpose of exhibiting his spectacular collection of 17th through 19th-century Western masterpieces. The defining characteristic of the Frick Collection is perfectly embodied by the West Gallery: the artworks are not segregated by time period or by schools. Unlike most museums, the Frick Collection showcases the works in an amalgamated presentation where the paintings and statues compliment one another in colour and theme. I was mesmerized in particular by the massive William Turner seascapes framed by the portraits of Rembrandt and Anthony van Dyck. The lightness of color in Turner’s painting next to the dramatic chiaroscuro of Rembrandt’s self portrait forms a captivating and harmonious balance. The gallery offers a new artistic experience and understanding that transcends the limits of time and place.
The ensuing gallery spaces invite the visitors to experience the artwork in the domestic setting that Frick lived in. The same amalgamation of artwork from different times and of different media decorates the library, living room, and the dining room. The only exception is the Fragonard Room, which features panels of Fragonard’s paintings set into the walls. Stepping into the space, I was instantly transported into the world of 18th-century French aristocracy. The gilded gold and embroidered furniture contextualize these gems of the Rococo era that allow the visitors to engage with, rather than simply viewing, the artwork.
Even after spending two hours immersed in the richness of European art that the Frick Collection has to offer, I was reluctant to say goodbye. With a disheartened groan, the wooden doors shuddered into motion under my palms and the cacophony of car honks flooded into the quietude. It was a little disorienting and certainly melancholic when I re-entered the reality of bustling New York. However, I was content knowing that there will always be a small but enchanting sanctuary tucked away in the Upper East Side that has more artistic adventures to offer.