Wednesday, April 28, 2021

509. A Friend of the Frick

The Frick collection is now on temporary display in another location in New York, in the MET Breuer, a building that is the opposite of the museum's mansion, a modernist concrete structure designed by Marcel Breuer.

One of the countless articles devoted to this completely different way of presenting the works of art included the name of Charles Ricketts, who visited New York only once in his life.

On October 15, 1927, Ricketts sailed to Canada and after brief visits to Quebec and Montreal, he travelled to Ottawa to see the Ottawa Gallery. He had been advising the museum on art purchases for many years. The city kept him busy for three weeks. Then he went to snowy New York which, to his own surprise, he liked: Fifth Avenue, Broadway, the polyglot crowds, the skyscrapers. 

He examined various art collections: the MET, where he was told that the museum would do a show of his books. Indeed, there was an exhibition that year, when Harold Bell's collection of bookbindings was shown. Ricketts visited the collectors Grenville L. Winthrop and Henry Clay Frick and saw their private art collections. 

Hans Holbein, 'Sir Thomas More', 1527 (painting)
[The Frick Collection, New York]

An observation he made there is now quoted in Untapped New York, in an article by Julia Vitullo-Martin. From New York, Ricketts wrote a note to Sydney Cockerell, dated 20 November 1927:

I had to spend three weeks, not nine days, in Canada, and have had too short a time in New York. The Greek things are admirable, the Egyptian things superb, both well shown [in the MET]. I was overwhelmed by the Frick Collection. Imagine Sir Thomas More, the beautiful saint, and Cromwell, the monster, united in history, art, and tragedy, now facing each other united by Holbein and time and chance!
(Self-Portrait, 1939, p. 388).

Hans Holbein, 'Thomas Cromwell', 1532-1533 (painting)
[The Frick Collection, New York]

In the Frick Museum, More's portrait hung to the left of a fireplace and Cromwell's to the right, and this order, determined by Frick himself, has always prevailed. In the temporary exhibition, too, the portraits hang side by side. Vitullo-Martin writes:

Sir Thomas More and his arch enemy, Thomas Cromwell, again face one another, but without the intervening fire place to soften the cold stares. Cromwell looks heavy, almost thuggish, while More looks confidently peaceful, as if he were Sir Laurence Olivier's uncle.

She then quotes Ricketts and introduces him as 'Frick's friend, the painter Charles Ricketts'. 

This friendship probably did not extend beyond Ricketts's one-time visit to the collection.