Which three works would I take home with me?
It is so hard to choose only three from this extraordinary assembly of paintings but then this game is ruthless: which ones would I want to live with? It hones discrimination down to a very personal choice based on emotion rather than the calibre of each painting.
If it were quality I was after, it would be nigh on impossible to choose given the excellence of this collection. And, after all, it’s the personal connection which makes the interaction with a painting so special.
Portrait of a Man in a Red Cap c.1510 Titian (c.1488–1576)
Ah! The soulful painterly lyricism of the Venetian painters which historians have put down to the light upon the water gets very close … whisper it low .. to a sort of Renaissance ProgRock pin up. The almost moustache echoed (mocked?) by the luxurious fur. The brilliant white shirt reflecting the light across his muscular neck. Ahhh. This unknown star of the Living Hall in the Frick was once thought to be by Giorgione but is now judged to be one of Titian’s earlier works painted when he was in his early Twenties.
The Lake 1861 Corot (1796–1875)
In my Twenties, I would have passed this painting without a second glance but now, perhaps I am getting more soulful? Corot exhibited the large, nearly monochromatic picture at the Salon of 1861. Critical reactions to it varied. Castagnary said: “The Lake is a ravishing landscape, simple in composition and full of grandeur. . . ” But another reviewer, Thoré, was less sympathetic: “Mist covers the earth. One is not sure where one is and one has no idea where one is going.” This would be my terse appraisal in my youth … but now I would love to live with this dreamy tour-de-force.
Self Portrait 1658 Rembrandt (1606–1669)
Tired, weary eyes peering out, watching us – and watching himself; his ageing face and small frame set in a weird fantasy costume, Rembrandt was only fifty-two in 1658 when created this portrait. Is he mocking his status as a painter with an artist’s beret for a crown, a painter’s stick for a sceptre and his gigantic craftsman’s hands looming towards us? Or just using what was to hand?
Rembrandt created almost a hundred self portraits including over 40 paintings over his career; an enormously high number for any artist up to that point. While the popular interpretation is that these represent a personal and introspective journey for Rembrandt, they were probably painted to satisfy a strong market for self portraits by leading artists. This makes this image all the more poignant. Is he a tired old horse trotting out for display? Or is he a defiant master at the height of his expressive powers? Or both? I could spend a lifetime debating this painting.
So, do you ever play this game of Take Home Three and which are your favourites from the Frick?
If you’ve never been to the Frick, I urge you to go next time you are in New York. So many people have never even heard of this gorgeous place. It is the sparkling gem of Museum Row overshadowed by the behemoth of the Met. The collection is set in Frick’s private mansion just by Central Park. Built to house his art- and his family – the museum is more like a National Trust property with rooms laid out exactly as they would have been. It’s a delightfully relaxed and intimate experience to wander around the billionaire’s front rooms to find – good gracious! – those Holbiens. Click here to be directed to their website where they have a Virtual Walk Through for those not planning a physical visit. (Unfortunately due to the nature of the lay out, children under ten are not allowed nor can bulky luggage be accommodated in their cloakroom.)