During World War II, the Frick Art Reference Library played a pivotal role in the international effort to identify and protect monuments and works of art in Europe from damage and destruction by armed forces. Helen Clay Frick, the founder and Director of the Library, invited the Committee of the American Council of Learned Societies on Protection of Cultural Treasures in War Areas to take up residence at the Library from 1943 to 1945.
As a summer intern at the Frick Art Reference Library, I researched several New York auction catalogs in preparation for the New York Art Resources Consortium (NYARC) online exhibition Gilding the Gilded Age: Interior Decoration Tastes & Trends in New York City. I found myself drawn to the catalogs with annotations of prices and buyers. This prompted me to reflect on society’s fascination with the money others pay for their belongings.
While conducting research as an intern at the Frick Art Reference Library, I was reminded that the New York auction house often acts as a stage for dramatic, headline-generating sales. On the evening of April 21, 1915, Gilded Age magnates and their art advisors assembled at the Plaza Hotel for just such a sale (American Art Association). On the block was the masterpiece-studded Blakeslee Collection, available nearly in its entirety to the public as a result of the scandalous suicide of the collector and salesman, Theron J. Blakeslee.
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.
From the pyramids of Egypt to the castles of the Loire Valley, Henry Clay Frick and his family took some enviable vacations in their time. They spared no expense in their travels and enjoyed trips that often lasted for months on end. The Archives of The Frick Collection and Frick Art Reference Library recently posted photograph albums from three of these trips in the Frick Digital Image Archive. The albums document travels in 1905, 1909, and 1912, and include views of France, Spain, Italy, Germany, and Switzerland. They were scanned by the Library’s Digital Imaging Lab, both as a means to capture and preserve their content, and as a way of providing greater access to these unique resources.
The second phase of a two-year collaborative project to document the New York City art scene at the turn of the 20th century by digitizing exhibition catalogs held at the Frick Art Reference Library and the Brooklyn Museum Libraries and Archives has been completed. The materials are now available to researchers worldwide through Arcade.
Part of my job as an intern at the Frick Art Reference Library this past summer entailed looking through the periodicals collection—more specifically, assessing the condition of old magazines, journals, and newspapers. After examining dozens of publications, I concluded that nothing is more telling of a time or generation than the advertisements, headlines, editorial opinions, and photographs contained within their pages, including the documenting of artists and artworks through text and images.
Collecting a rich array of scholarly research materials for the study of Western art held by museums and galleries all over the world has always been one of the core missions of the Frick Art Reference Library. It should come as no surprise then that the Library has one of the most comprehensive collections of catalogs of European fine arts from the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, with an especially rich selection of nineteenth-century imprints.
The New York Art Resources Consortium (NYARC) directors are planning for the future. Recently, we secured an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant to explore collecting born-digital (i.e., originating in a digital format) art historical materials.