As the Art Libraries Society of North America (ARLIS/NA) intern for 2012, I am fortunate to be spending time at all three New York Art Resources Consortium (NYARC) libraries. The Frick Art Reference Library and those of the Brooklyn Museum and The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) share many attributes. One of these is the important role that collecting expeditions played in increasing the holdings of each institution. Interestingly, in the early twentieth century these libraries supported major expeditions that were led by women. These bold travelers came from a variety of backgrounds and socioeconomic classes and were ahead of their time.
The Frick Art Reference Library is proud to host the Montias Database of Dutch Art Inventories, compiled by the late Yale University professor of economics John Michael Montias (1928–2005). The database contains information from 1,280 inventories, stored in the Stadsarchief Amsterdam (State Archive), of paintings, prints, sculpture, furniture, and other goods owned by people living in Amsterdam during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This information includes records for the 51,071 individual works of art listed in the inventories and is therefore an invaluable research tool that can help elucidate patterns of buying, selling, inventorying, and collecting art in Holland during the Dutch Golden Age.
The Frick Art Reference Library and the libraries of the Brooklyn Museum and The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) offer many resources for scholars investigating Central European modernism. In conducting research related to the visual arts in Prague between the two World Wars, I was impressed by the number of publications dedicated to this topic and particularly to the highly important Czech modernist artist, critic, author, journalist, playwright, and stage designer Josef Čapek (1887–1945) about whom unfortunately little is known outside the Czech Republic. He is beloved among Czech children as the author and illustrator of the Doggie and Pussycat series of stories, but his importance within the modernist movement far exceeds this aspect of his popularity. In addition to his own work, he wrote plays with his brother, Karel (1890–1938), including the seminal Insect Play and R.U.R.
Libraries can contain unexpected treasures. Who would have guessed that the Frick Art Reference Library possesses a collection of seventy-four photographs of artists in their Paris studios circa 1885 to 1892? The photographs were given to the Library in 1940 by the American polar artist Frank Wilbert Stokes (1858–1955). Stokes had much earlier (1916–19) tried unsuccessfully to persuade Henry Clay Frick (1849–1919) to visit his studio and buy some of his paintings.
The recently completed NYARC digitization project “Documenting the Gilded Age: New York City Exhibitions at the Turn of the 20th Century,” was the product of a collaboration between the Frick Art Reference Library and the Brooklyn Museum Libraries and Archive. Like many collaborative digital projects, “Documenting Gilded Age” exposed both the challenges and unique opportunities that come from transforming physical items – in this case rare, ephemeral exhibition catalogs – into digital form.
The art exhibitions of small galleries, society clubs, and associations in the late 19th and early 20th centuries chronicle the emergence of New York City as a metropolis destined to be a global center for the international art market. Ephemeral exhibition catalogs, checklists, and pamphlets from this period document artistic movements, artists of the period, economic markets, and social and cultural history. The materials from eleven galleries, clubs, and associations that have played a pivotal role in the history of art and New York City have been digitized from the collections of the Frick Art Reference Library and the Brooklyn Museum Libraries and Archives and are now available to researchers worldwide. Spanning the period from 1875 to 1922, this initial collection serves as the foundation for a more comprehensive project to document the New York City art scene at the turn of the 20th century.
Australia is about as far from New York as one can travel. However, the three NYARC libraries have a small but important collection of materials about Australian art that brings the country from down under to the United States. In May and June 2011, the Frick Art Reference Library acquired 150 Australian exhibition catalogs. The majority of these catalogs are not widely available, with the Frick being the only library in the United States to own copies of some of the titles. Added to works about Aboriginal and post-WWII Australian art at the libraries of the Brooklyn Museum and The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), the Frick’s recent acquisition helps to form a high-quality consortial collection related to art in Australia.
The Digital Image Archive allows visitors to browse and download images of 15,000 works of art captured during the Frick’s photography expeditions throughout the United States from 1922 to 1967. Researchers can retrieve images by keyword or field searching, display large preview images, download small jpeg image files, and link to the matching Arcade records.
Jesse Sadia, Cataloging Associate for Auction Sales Catalogs, established the staff exhibition program at The Frick Collection and Frick Art Reference Library in 1999 as a means for artists on staff to get to know one another and to create a display of works that their colleagues could enjoy. The first exhibition, Small Works, occupied two bookshelves. It invited artists in the Library to create pieces no larger than 2 x 2 inches. The next year the exhibition was expanded to include all employees of the Frick and became part of the institution’s annual Staff Education Day activities. Twelve years later the program is still going strong.