Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Exhibit Worth Seeing

Until I visited the Frick Collection in New York today, drawn by the current exhibition of great paintings from the newly-renovated Mauritshuis museum in The Hague, I had forgotten what a superb group of paintings the Frick holds in its permanent collection. The visiting exhibit is entitled Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Hals, and is impressive.  True, there's only one Vermeer but it's the most famous one and one of the world's most renowned paintings, Girl With a Pearl Earring.  The Rembrandts are excellent and the two Hals portraits have another quality in common with those in the permanent Frick group: Hals clearly was not always painting people with smiles or laughing as in the familiar Laughing Cavalier.

But the Frick is worth visiting because its regular set of paintings adhere to an incredibly high standard. First, there are three fine Vermeers, quite an accomplishment since there are only 36 known ones world-wide. Five others are up Fifth Ave. at the Metropolitan. One of the Frick's, Officer and Laughing Girl, is in my view equal to its pearl-earring relative.

There are also an amazing group of El Grecos, Turners, Rembrandts, Titians, and a roomful of the great British cadre of Gainsborough, Reynolds, Raeburn, and Romney.  Romney's Lady Hamilton shows us how her amazing beauty captivated so many leading Englishmen of the day. The Mauritshuis show also has a wonderful Van Ruisdel landscape, View of Haarlem, and the picture recently made famous by the novel, The Goldfinch, viz., the eponymous Fabritius picture.  It is just a total delight wandering the relatively tight confines of this mansion turned into a museum.

It almost makes you forget that even by the standards of his fellow robber barons, Henry Clay Frick, was a true villain.  He took the lead in bringing in Pinkertons to break the Homestead steel strike, for which admittedly Carnegie likely deserved to be blamed as much as Frick was, but Frick has gone down in history as the principal responsible corporate terrorist of the day.  Even the house video telling the history of the museum concedes that he moved to New York because he was hated in Pittsburgh for his role in violently breaking the strike.

Thus one does feel a sensation comparable to that experienced by those with labor values when contemplating crossing a picket line, any picket line, no matter how unprepossessing the union is which has put the line up.  You face what rarely occurs in or society--you are required to declare which side you are on. Unions, of course, are far from being the factor in our society they once were, and this is a major cause of the lamentable inequality wenow confront in the U.S. The paintings are fantastic and many were acquired personally by Frick himself, but it's still hard to get rid of the sour taste in the mouth that visiting this redoubt of the worst kind of figure in our history produces.

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