Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Frick Biographer to Share Personal History Behind Great-Grandfather's Famous Art Collection

CHESTERTOWN, MD—Henry Clay Frick, the famous art collector and industrialist, lived a life that combined glittering masterpieces with dark personal demons. In a March 9 presentation at Washington College, sponsored by the C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience and co-sponsored by the Department of Art and Art History, Frick’s great-granddaughter, Martha Frick Symington Sanger, will reveal how death and tragedy helped inspire one of the greatest art collections in the world, now enshrined in New York's famous Frick Collection.
The event, which is free and open to the public, will begin at 5 p.m. in Decker Theatre, Daniel Z. Gibson Center for the Arts, on the College campus, 300 Washington Avenue.

Sanger is the author of the 1998 biography Henry Clay Frick: An Intimate Portrait (Abbeville Press), which explores the impact of events in Frick’s personal life on his collecting — especially the tragic 1891 death of his 5-year-old daughter and an attempted assassination of the tycoon the following year. The paintings Frick acquired after 1892, including masterpieces by Rembrandt, Ingres, and Vermeer, were notable for recalling people, places, and events from his own past.
At his death, Frick bequeathed the majority of his extensive art collection to the American people, establishing the public gallery now known as the Frick Collection, but his legacy was counterbalanced by his reputation as a strikebreaker and an enemy of the working class.
“Walking into the Frick and exploring the masterpieces there, a casual visitor would never guess at the collection’s deeper, hidden meaning,” said Starr Center director Adam Goodheart. “But thanks to Martha Frick Symington Sanger’s detective work, we know how those paintings form a kind of secret autobiography of their owner.”
Martha Frick Symington Sanger has researched the Frick family for more than twenty years, and is the author of two other books, Helen Clay Frick: Bittersweet Heiress (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2007) and The Henry Clay Frick Houses: Architecture-Interiors-Landscapes In the Golden Era (Monacelli Press, 2001). She served as a consultant for the 1995 PBS documentary Andrew Carnegie: The Richest Man in the World. In a 2007 article for the Wall Street Journal, Carnegie Corporation president Vartan Gregorian cited Henry Clay Frick: An Intimate Portrait as one of the best books ever written on America’s Gilded Age philanthropists.
Sanger’s talk, “Henry Clay Frick: Mourning Became the Art Collector,” will juxtapose artistic masterpieces with archival photographs to illustrate how her great-grandfather’s psychological complexities produced one of the world’s greatest art collections.
Founded in 1782 under the patronage of George Washington, Washington College is a private, independent college of liberal arts and sciences located in colonial Chestertown on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Based in the Custom House along the colonial waterfront, the College’s C.V. Starr Center fosters the art of written history and explores our nation’s past — particularly the legacy of its Founding era — in innovative ways, through educational programs, scholarship and public outreach. For more information on the Center, visit http://starrcenter.washcoll.edu.

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