Manhattan is chock-full of cultural cornerstones. The Metropolitan Museum of Art on Fifth Avenue is perhaps the best known and most stupendous with its “two million square feet housing more than two million objects of which you can see tens of thousands at any given time”.
The trouble with such big numbers is that, just like the Louvre in Paris, this cultural behemoth requires a lifetime of visits and close inspection to be truly understood and appreciated.
For the vast majority of travellers, those rarely in the city, the Met presents a great challenge. Visitors rarely have time for a comprehensive experience and have to choose carefully what they want most to see.
In this sense then, smaller can be greater, and I’m fortunate to be steered towards a worthy alternative, The Frick Collection, housed in a magnificent former private home not far from the Met. (1 East 70th Street)
This Manhattan marvel is perfectly suited to time-poor tourists seeking a stellar experience. The Frick contains one of the most extraordinary collections of fine art you could ever hope to appreciate in a morning or afternoon.
And it’s a bargain; entry is $18 adults, $15 seniors. Children under 10 are not allowed so you can look forward to a squeal-free ambience while wandering spellbound through the mansion’s 16 galleries with your free audio guide.
Another singular joy of the Frick is being able to get as close as possible to priceless art. Naturally there’s security in place but it’s unobtrusive. Provided I didn’t try to touch I was able to keenly inspect, judiciously, the brushstrokes of Old Masters – Rembrandt, Velasquez, Turner, Degas, Renoir.
I’m a huge fan of Hilary Mantel’s Tudor novels (Wolf Hall & Bring Up The Bodies) so I am elated to see the Holbein portraits of Thomas More and Thomas Cromwell. These two splendid oils are suitably juxtaposed either side of the great fireplace in the Living Hall. As the audio guide pertinently comments in my ear, “it’s hard to believe you are looking at the originals of these famous works”.
At the same time I can’t help noticing that Holbein’s portrait of More looks uncannily like the Cromwell of the BBC television series, far more so than does his painting of Cromwell. Perhaps the series producers got their portraits mixed up?
Above my head hangs the huge El Greco depiction of St Jerome, on an opposite wall are two paintings by Titian, and between them and where I stand is Michelangelo Buanarotti’s sculpture Sampson and Two Philistines gracing a elegant table.
And that’s just some of the art in this one room!
This superb collection of beautiful objects and extraordinary paintings was amassed by the 19th Century coke and steel industrialist Henry Clay Frick.
Indeed, it was a fortune well spent.
In addition to European masterpieces it comprises sculptures, 18th Century French furniture and porcelains and an unrivalled display of exquisite Limoges enamels. Wherever you look there’s something extraordinary to see. And I have hardly mentioned the wonder itself of being allowed to see the interior of this magnificent house.
My travel advice is that you promptly engrave the Frick’s address on your next New York itinerary.