Mauritshuis and The Frick Collection - Stories about the Frick




Art Treasures from New York

Discover the fascinating stories behind the Frick Collection. Who was Henry Frick, how did his home become a museum and what is the connection with the Mauritshuis.


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American Dream

Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919) lived the American Dream. He was born the son of a farmer in rural Pennsylvania. Having received only a basic education, he went out to work at a young age, but was good with numbers and had sharp commercial instincts. This became clear when he began producing coke (heated coal). With Pittsburgh’s burgeoning steel industry generating huge demand for this fuel, it proved to be a master stroke. Frick was a millionaire by the age of thirty.

An Unpopular Director

The H.C. Frick Coke Company merged with Andrew Carnegie’s steel company in 1882. Frick became a director of the new company, and he ran a tight ship. During a strike at the Homestead Steel Works in 1892, he hired a small army of three hundred men to break the strike. Nine men were killed, and Frick became a hate figure. A Russian anarchist attempted to assassinate him in retaliation. Frick was hit by two bullets, but survived the attack.


In 1881 Frick married Adelaide Howard Childs (1859-1931). The couple had four children: Childs (1883-1965), Helen Clay (1888-1984) and another two who died in childhood. The family lived in Pittsburgh in a large villa named Clayton, before moving to New York in 1905. The Fricks were regular visitors to Europe, including a trip in 1912. For the return journey, they booked a suite on the Titanic, but before things could get that far, Adelaide sprained her ankle. The Fricks had to postpone their return, so avoiding a disaster.


De ‘Gilded Age’

Frick embodies the so-called ‘Gilded Age’. In the years between 1870 and 1915, many American businessmen amassed huge fortunes in trade, industry and banking. They used these riches to build magnificent houses and acquire European art treasures. But the wealthiest among them such as John D. Rockefeller, Andrew W. Carnegie, John Pierpoint Morgan, Cornelius Vanderbilt and Henry Clay Frick were also driven to share their fortunes. They donated millions to universities, hospitals, concert halls, libraries and museums.

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