Following Art through Guidebooks, and More

  • Posted on Sep 06, 2013 by

In 1920, Helen Clay Frick traveled to Europe ostensibly as an art tourist, as she was interested in “-an intimate view of town and countryside depicted on these canvases which her father cherished (Knox, 2)." During this trip, she attempted to match destination views with Thomas Gainsborough's Mall in St. James's Park, John Constable's Salisbury Cathedral, and William Turner's Mortlake Terrace (Knox, 2). While she was able to find these familiar scenes, not surprisingly, they were considerably altered from the time of their artistic rendering in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

It was during this 1920 tour that Miss Frick conceived of and set in motion a plan to build a research library with her aim being in part, to photo-document art in the United States and Europe. The photography trips which resulted from her desire required meticulous planning (Knox, 61). The preparation for them initiated the collection of travel guidebooks found in the collections of the Frick Art Reference Library.

As guidebooks age, they shift from being contemporaneous resources containing helpful navigational and travel tips to documenting the past. A researcher who wants to walk in the footsteps of an artwork over its lifetime would use these books as, "-records of the original locations of paintings, altarpieces, sculptures, and other works of art that were moved (or even lost) as the physical and cultural topography of cities changed over time" (Reist, 16–17). Consider, for example, what visiting a bustling nineteenth-century New York City might have been like for a collector armed with the New York Art Guide and Artists' Directory (1893) in comparison to more than one hundred years later using that same guide.

Cover, New York Art Guide and Artists' Directory, 1893, Frick Art Reference Library
Cover, New York Art Guide and Artists' Directory, 1893, Frick Art Reference Library

The libraries of the New York Art Resources Consortium (NYARC) offer researchers a variety of materials with which to travel the world, especially for those who would like to explore destinations related to art. Below is a small selection of titles that may spark your very own trip!

Books of Interest:

Kelly, Ellsworth, and S. Giedion. Drawings on a Bus: Sketchbook 23, 1954. Göttingen: Steidl Publishers, 2007. Print.

Latrobe, Benjamin H. Impressions Respecting New Orleans: Diary & Sketches, 1818–1820. New York: Columbia University Press, 1951. Print.

Mease, James. The Picture of Philadelphia, Giving an Account of Its Origin, Increase and Improvements in Arts, Sciences, Manufactures, Commerce and Revenue: With a Compendious View of Its Societies, Literary, Benevolent, Patriotic, & Religious. Its Police-the Public Buildings-the Prison and Penetentiary System-Institutions. Philadelphia: B. & T. Kite, 1811. Print.

Related Subject Headings:





Europe—Description and travel

United States—Description and travel

Katie Blake, Intern, Frick Art Reference Library

Works cited:

Knox, Katharine M. C. The Story of the Frick Art Reference Library: The Early Years. New York: The Library, 1979. Print.

Reist, Inge J. "A Trip through Time: Guidebooks for Grand Tourists." Frick Collection Members' Magazine. 9.2 (2009). Print.


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