We thought we would have to go to Amsterdam to see Vermeer’s iconic painting, “Girl with a Pearl Earring.” When Angelina and I heard that it was part of a Dutch traveling exhibit coming to the Frick Museum in New York City last year, we made plans to go. Since we had no great desire to fight big-city traffic, we chose instead to stay in Stamford, CT and take the train into the city. The hour’s train ride into Grand Central Terminal (often referred to as Grand Central Station in error.) was uneventful. The first of several surprises of the trip was Grand Central itself. When we walked into the cavernous Main Concourse from the underground platforms, we were stunned by the sheer size and elegant Beaux-Arte architecture of this beautiful building which opened in 1913 and was extensively renovated over a 12-year period starting in 1994.
We took some photos and then ventured outside into the rain to the taxi stand to head to the Frick. That’s when our New York adventure really started to ramp-up.
Taxis were everywhere, a vast armada of yellow cars and vans warily patrolling the streets of Manhattan. We told our driver where we were going and off he went, bobbing and weaving through traffic, tooting his horn impatiently. He zigged, he zagged, but most of all, he zoomed down Madison Avenue. Is this what fighter pilots do when they retire?
We soon arrived at the Frick in a driving rain only to see a very long queue of umbrellas snaking down the street and around the corner from the entrance. However, we had anticipated this and purchased our tickets online in advance, allowing us to walk to the head of the line and right into the museum. Nice.
Henry Clay Frick was a wealthy industrialist with a passion for fine art and the wherewithal to buy it. And buy it he did. Over time he filled his Fifth Avenue mansion with Old Masters, fine furniture, sculpture, and porcelains. After his death in 1919, he willed the entire estate – building, furniture, as well as the art collection to the public.
But we were there for the travelling exhibit of Dutch Masters on loan from the Mauritshuis in The Hague. We followed the crowd into the two special galleries where the Dutch paintings were displayed. “Girl with a Pearl Earring” was the star of the collection hanging by itself in one room while the others were in a nearby gallery. The exhibit was very crowded with most gathered around “Girl” which was cordoned off by a velvet rope and watched over by two security people. However, each person was able to get in close enough for a good look, everyone polite to the point of good-nature. The security was tight; guys in blue blazers were everywhere. However, they were courteous and, given the size of the crowd and the high value of the collections, I did not find their vigilance unreasonable.
The size of the group in front of “Girl” would drift up and down and when it would drop I would scoot back for another look. Who knows if we would ever see her again? Once, for a brief instant, I was alone with her, her famous eyes gazing into mine from 350 years ago. A golden moment.
Angelina enjoyed “Girl” as well along with a painting by Jacob van Ruisdael titled “View of Haarlem with Bleaching Grounds.”
We explored the rest of the museum to see the permanent collection. The Frick may be small but the collection was mighty. Henry Clay Frick had acquired not one but three Vermeers and they were all on display during our visit. I counted no less than 5 paintings by J.M.W.Turner, including two large beauties in the main gallery. In the Dining Room, large full-sized Gainsborough portraits hung on each wall. Works by Rembrandt, Holbein, Hals, Whistler, Constable, Van Dyke, Goya, El Greco and a portrait of George Washington by Rhode Island’s Gilbert Stuart were also on display. By this time we had been in the Frick for several hours and one thing we have come to expect is museum-fatigue regardless of how good the collections are.
The cab ride back to Grand Central was anticlimactic due to heavy traffic. Even fighter pilots need a break. That’s when we noticed the 48 foot sculpture of Hercules, Minerva, and Mercury atop the front of the terminal, still more impressive art in New York City. We had lunch at a busy fast food restaurant called Juniors where we could sit for awhile. Junior’s was located in the Lower Concourse which had been transformed into a giant food court. We ordered cheeseburgers, fries and merlot (yes, cheeseburgers, fries and merlot). The wine came prepackaged in a small sealed plastic container like a milk carton. We rolled our eyes at this but both the burgers and merlot were quite good.
We arrived back at the hotel in Stamford by late afternoon, weary but satisfied that we had been able to catch this rare exhibit of such fine Dutch art and discovered an extraordinary new museum as well.