Museum Mile – the Frick Collection

Frick Collection, New York City

Frick Collection, New York City

There’s a stretch of New York’s Fifth Avenue, bordering Central Park, that’s known as Museum Mile. It’s actually slightly longer than a mile and boasts, in its official definition between 82nd to 105th Streets, nine major city museums, with another couple further along.

My personal favourite is actually just outside Museum Mile, at 70th Street.

When I first visited New York City courtesy of Freddy Laker’s Skytrain in 1981, I knew only two people who’d ever been there. One was my friend Bill, who had lugged his motorbike aboard a tramp steamer and ridden across the USA both ways, and he made me promise that while I was in the Big Apple I’d go and sit by the fountain in the Frick Collection.

This I duly did, and every time I’ve returned to the city I make a point, if possible, of sending Bill a postcard from the Frick.

Built in Louis XVI style by Carrer & Hastings (1912-14), this was the town-house of Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919), the unlikeable and notably unpopular chairman of the Carnegie Steel Corporation. After the death of Frick’s widow in 1931 the building was adapted as a museum which opened in 1935.

Of all the city’s many museums and galleries, the Frick is intimate and reassuringly calm. The Fountain Court created by John Russell Pope in the 1930s refurbishment must be among the most congenial places to sit and relax in the whole of New York City.

The core collection reflects Henry Clay Frick’s personal taste. I remember standing in front of a fireplace, looking at the Holbein of Sir Thomas More on one side and the same painter’s portrait of More’s nemesis, Thomas Cromwell, on the other.

There’s nowhere in the world quite like the Frick.

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture The Big Apple:  the architecture of New York City, please click here.

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