Category Archives: The Frick Collection

Family dynamics

Have you thought about the questions from the Frick Five videos?  (See the last post for more info.)  Any definitive responses?  No hard and fast selections made here, either.  But isn’t that part of the enjoyment?

I’m still thinking about my answer to the first question:  What is the one work of art you would want to live with every day?   I can’t commit to a decision….yet.  But thinking about possible choices reminded me of a favourite painting by the artist  John Singer Sargent.

The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit, John Singer Sargent, 1882, NYTimes image

The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit, John Singer Sargent, 1882, NYTimes image

This is a stunning oil painting.  For starters, it is large: 7 feet by 7 feet square.  It assumes a significant physical presence in the Museum of Fine Arts Boston. Wikipedia reminded me that The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit  is hung between the original two vases depicted in the painting.

I don’t think of myself as a huge fan of realist painting, but this painting offers far more than a physical representation of a person, or a group.  I have had the opportunity to see it in person, with plenty of time to sit in an uncrowded space, and enjoy it.  (The typical art museum visitor spends, on average, less than 30 seconds looking at a piece of art, according to a study published in Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and Art in 2017.)

Consider the composition.  Our attention is immediately captured by the girls. (Psychological studies provide evidence that our eye / attention is instinctively drawn to a human face or figure in visual art.)  This is not a typical arrangement of figures for a family portrait, especially considering it was painted in 1882.   We don’t even see the (presumably) eldest daughter’s face as she is turned away from the viewer and and  is obscured by  shadow. Two of the girls hold more traditional poses, but not together.  One of them is shadowed, and the other is at the edge of the painting. The youngest is plopped on the floor, like her doll.  The child and the doll present as one figure.

John Singer Sargent was a prolific artist , creating thousands of artworks in oil, watercolour and charcoal.  He was born in Italy to American parents, and lived most of his life in Europe, with frequent trips to the USA.  At the beginning of his career, he accepted many portrait commissions in America.

Lady with the Rose (Charlotte Louise Burckhardt), John Singer Sargent, 1882

Lady with the Rose (Charlotte Louise Burckhardt), John Singer Sargent, 1882

Miss Beatrice Townsend, John Singer Sargent, 1882

Miss Beatrice Townsend, John Singer Sargent, 1882

The Boit family were part of the expatriate  American community in Paris.  In this commissioned portrait, Singer Sargent allows us, the viewers, room for imaginative speculation about the characters of the sisters. He’s given us just enough situational context to create stories about the individual personalities, and  to speculate at possible family dynamics.  Note the abundance of dark tones in the painting.  I wonder if the parents knew, encouraged or approved of this extremely unconventional depiction of their daughters?   The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit (originally titled Portraits of Children) was donated to the Museum of Fine Arts Boston in 1919, only four years after Edward Darley Boit died.  Perhaps the sisters weren’t all that fond of it?

The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit, John Singer Sargent, 1882, NYTimes image

The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit, John Singer Sargent, 1882, NYTimes image

Structurally, the painting is intriguing.  The girls – and an inanimate object, a vase –  dominate the left two thirds of the composition, with the carpet almost meeting the doorframe at an angle – the same door edge that strongly frames one of the sisters.  Meanwhile, the orange-red triangular shape (a screen?) firmly pins the right side down, whilst partially obscuring the repeated vase shape.  What a playground for the eye!  We can travel from the human figures to the classical vase shapes to the geometry of the carpet, doorway and screen.  My eye is intrigued by the reflection in the upper right third of the painting, and thus another visual trip around the composition begins.

By re-examining one of my favourite paintings, maybe I’m getting closer to a definitive answer to the second Frick Five question.  Maybe.

If you could have your portrait made by any artist, who would that be?





If you could have any artwork in the world….and other perfect summer fantasies


What is the one work of art that you would want to live with every day?

Isn’t this a great question to consider?  It’s quite a fun idea to explore.  Just think about it. Take your time.  I find a seemingly unending stream of memories is elicited.   I offer it as a satisfying bit of escapism this summer.  As Annie Dillard says Spend the afternoon, you can’t take it with you.

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It’s not an easy choice for me.  I acknowledge that much of the remarkable work I’ve experienced wouldn’t be easy to live with every day.  There are  size and volume constraints, of course, but tone and meaning and the intention of the work must be considered, too.  Just as we are (or ought to be) selective about choosing housemates and partners, we are sensitive to the spirit of the artwork we bring into our lives.

If you could have your portrait made by any artist, who would that be?

I especially like this question.  (Could it be because it’s so self-centred?!)  Maybe it’s because I don’t know much about portrait painting and so I have fewer choices.  Whatever the reason, it too, offers the opportunity for entertaining possibilites.

Artemisia Gentileschi?  Caravaggio?  Rembrandt?  John Singer Sergeant?  Berthe Morisot?  Njideka Akunyili Crosby?  Käthe Kollwitz?

Njideka Akunyili Crosby, I Refuse to be Invisible, 2010, artist image

Njideka Akunyili Crosby, I Refuse to be Invisible, 2010, artist image

The questions are not originally conceived, nor are these:

What is the work or art / monument / museum that changed your life?

What is the book, and what is the piece of music, that inspire you the most?

Which artist do you find most overrated?  Which artist do you find most underrated?

These questions are posed by the Frick curators on their twice a month series, The Frick Five, available on the Frick’s website.  The Frick curators, Amiee Ng and Xavier F. Salomon, conduct relaxed, remote video  conversations with other curators.  It’s fun to get a glimpse into their homes – not always the  ubitquous book shelves – and hear them speak from a personal, as well as a professional viewpoint. The stories surrounding a life-changing piece of art or monument are delivered honestly and with a measure of vulnerability.  Isn’t that what happens when we resonate with a piece of art?  As they ably explain the historical and artistic significance of the works  supporting images are provided.

It’s highly entertaining to hear art professionals discuss the ‘overrated’ artists, and very informative to hear their support and enthusiasm for an artist deserving more attention.  They are limiting  the discussion to deceased artists, and not dishing any dirt on contemporary artists – although I initially held out some hope for just such an exchange, but they are obviously more gracious, and a whole lot wiser, than me.  I’ll leave it to you to find the interview with the curator who dares to question the values attributed to certain Impressionist painters.

The music and book choices are sometimes surprising, but always charming.  Kylie Minogue, anyone?! I think I would find it impossible to choose only one book, or one single piece of music.  Just like one piece of art, how does one choose?





Cocktails with a curator……

Sounds appealing, doesn’t it?  Looking at visual art, sipping something delicious …..not a bad way to pass the time as we all shelter in place.

There are thousands (millions?) of videos, presentations, discussions, interviews, podcasts chats, and forums digitally available to us during the pandemic.  One has to be selective, and release any FOMO feelings.  There’s an enormous amount of great material available.

I thought I’d spare you some time, and frustration, and point you directly to the best use of 18 minutes of your attention and screen time.  Cocktails with a Curator is produced by the Frick Collection in NYC.  Every Friday afternoon at 5 p.m. (EST) Xavier F. Salomon, the Frick’s chief curator,  welcomes us to his apartment.  He discusses the evening’s thematically chosen cocktail, and then launches into a brief discussion of an artwork  from the Frick Collection.  Accompanied by appropriate visuals, he outlines the provenance of the painting, offers some interpretation of the image, and ends with a thoughtful commentary on the relevance of the work to our present days.

Salomon’s presentation is professional, and knowledgable.  It  lacks pretence (despite all his credentials, including being named a Cavaliere dell’Ordine della Stella d’Italia) and is accessible to all.  I find his tone sympathetic, engaging and compassionate.

If you’re interested, do sample the first evening’s cocktail and discussion of Giovanni Bellini’s  St. Francis in the Desert.  Keep in mind that it was first available April 10, which was Good Friday.

I readily acknowledge my fondness for the Frick Collection.  Last year I wrote about The Frick Collection (available  here ) and I did ‘buy the postcard’ of St. Francis in the Desert on one of my visits.

St. Francis in the Desert, Bellini, The Frick Collection (NY Times image)

If you enjoy the talk, you can sign up to receive reminders to ‘tune in’ every Friday.  Fortunately, the presentations are available at any time online, and there’s only been two so far.  (Not too much FOMO….)

Of all the things you’ve watched or listened to this past month, which one would you most highly recommend?





Swoon worthy art

Do you have a favourite piece of artwork that you make a point of visiting, whenever you find yourself in a certain gallery, or in another city?  I have several;  they seem to act as touchstones for me.  Perhaps they give me a sense of familiarity in a foreign setting  as I explore new things.  This impulse certainly speaks to the power of good art to inspire me, and reassure me.

At one of my favourite small art museums in New York City,  The Frick Collection (I know, I know, it’s impossible to choose favourites in NYC!) is a Rembrandt van Rijn self portrait from 1658.

Rembrandt van Rijn, Self Portrait, 1658, The Frick Collection

This painting almost makes me swoon….and I don’t swoon easily.   In person, it appears luminous. Technically speaking, it is gorgeous: the rich colours, the play of light and dark, and the composition guide our attention to his hands, and his steady gaze.

Rembrandt was about 50 years old when he painted this self portrait.  Not only does the painting reflect his technical virtuosity , but it provokes a strong emotional response.  He portrays himself confidently.  He is dressed sumptuously.  With a staff and his hat, he seems ready to meet anyone and any challenge in the world.

He looks directly at the viewer.  He certainly engages this viewer, who feels an uncanny connection to this man.  His gaze seems open, and honest.  It appears that he acknowledges, and accepts, the complexity of life.  Does the set of his mouth suggest a bemused attitude, or a resigned one?  Whatever the interpretation, the portrait exudes humanity, warmth and  life.

The next time you’re in New York, you might want to drop into the Frick, and experience this portrait.  As far as I know, it’s on permanent display….and rightfully so.