An important chapter in the history of American entrepreneurs and their influence on the broader art world and on popular taste began in the late 19th century with New York City’s tycoon patrons such as William Henry Vanderbilt (1821-1885), Katherine Dreier (1877-1952) and John Quinn (1870–1924), who amassed enormous collections that were driven–for the most part–by personal taste. Today, the majority the these art collections have been dispersed: either sold off, auctioned or donated to various museums around the country.
In a rare preservation, we can still find the extraordinary art collections of the industrialist Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919) and the legendary financier Pierpoint Morgan (1837-1913) in the heart of New York City, housed in the original homes and libraries the Pierpoint Morgan Museum and Library and The Frick Collection, allowing us a view into the world of the resplendent décor, design and architecture of historic homes, and the often eclectic (if not eccentric) collecting habits of the 19th-century financial barons who relished their worldly success through acquiring art works of great beauty and rarity.
The first stop will be The Morgan Library & Museum at 36th street. Today, the site is a collection of remarkable historic and modern buildings including the first structure “Mr. Morgan’s library”(1902-1906) designed by Charles Follen McKim, its original function to house Pierpont Morgan’s private library, other additions to accommodate the art collection including the Annex (1928) and the mid-19th-century brownstone on Madison Avenue and 37th Street. Pierpont Morgan’s private acquisitions are the basis of this substantial and fascinating collection donated to the public in 1924. The library holds countless rare books, manuscripts, drawings, prints, and ancient artifacts Egyptian art to Renaissance paintings to Chinese porcelains.
The tour will culminate with a visit to Frick’s magnificent home, is a true gem in the metropolis with its interior courtyard, resplendent décor and remarkable objects. . Designed by Carrère and Hastings (1913), it was constructed to serve as a showcase for Frick’s distinguished collection. There are sixteen galleries in which much of the art remains arranged and displayed as Frick had originally decreed. Highlights include the Fragonard Room as well as the living hall filled with masterworks such as Vermeer’s Mistress and Maid. The original homes and collections of Frick and Morgan reflect the entrepreneurial spirit of America, and their discerning and sometimes daring collection of art work, furniture, books and decorative arts of all periods, which made them tastemakers in the art world during their lifetime, and today. These businessmen were not art historians or connoisseurs, but rather had an eye for not only masterworks but also for the unusual.
Often regarded as a ruthless businessman, Frick made his fortune in industry, including distilleries, coke, and iron and steel. This private art collection (now publicly accessible) shows an extraordinary sensitivity that is not easy to reconcile with his merciless image in labor history.