Two Is Better Than One, But Three Will Suffice: The Frick Pittsburgh and The Frick Collection Conjoin for a Once-in-a-Lifetime Father-Daughter Art Exhibition

By Gina McKlveen

When Helen Clay Frick was a young girl living in Pittsburgh, her father, Henry Clay Frick, the famed (for better or for worse) industrialist who founded a local coke manufacturing company, H.C. Frick & Company, and chaired much of the region’s steel manufacturing business that eventually developed into the U.S. Steel conglomerate, asked Helen what she wanted as a gift to celebrate her becoming a debutante, to formally introduce herself into society, she requested that her father make a land donation to the City of Pittsburgh, which would eventually become a public park, better known today as Frick Park. Years later, long after her father passed away, Helen commissioned the building of an art museum next to this park where she kept her vast and personal art collection. This art museum is The Frick Art Museum at The Frick Pittsburgh.

Prior to founding her own art museum, Helen oversaw the establishment of Henry’s personal art collection, who bequeathed his Fifth Avenue mansion in New York City and numerous Renaissance artworks and other early 20th-century European masterpieces to the public, forming The Frick Collection. This year, The Frick Collection is closed while it undergoes its first comprehensive upgrade since the 1930s, allowing for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Henry and Helen’s art collections to conjoin for the first time ever under one roof at The Frick Art Museum in Pittsburgh from now until July 14, 2024.

The banner outside the Frick.

The exhibit entitled, “Vermeer, Monet, Rembrandt: Forging the Frick Collections in Pittsburgh & New York,” is only on view for a limited time, but is a must-see, more than once if you can, because in the words of The Frick Pittsburgh’s Executive Director, Elizabeth E. Barker, “[I]t’s a project unlikely ever to be repeated.” Why? The Frick Collection’s Curator, Aimee Ng, explains, “During this exceptional period in The Frick Collection’s history—as we renovate the historic Frick house in Manhattan…[we have been able] to share our collection,” which is rarely done under normal conditions because these artworks are rarely, if ever, loaned to other museums.

A view of the gallery.

Thus, fortuitous is the timing, as the title of the exhibit suggests, the exhibition showcases more than 60 works of art from the collections of both The Frick Collection (Henry’s art collection) and The Frick Pittsburgh (Helen’s art collection), including works by Monet, Degas, Whistler, and El Greco. Other paintings featured from the collections include: Rembrandt’s iconic 1658 Self-Portrait, Sassetta’s The Virgin of Humility Crowned by Two Angels, Ingres’s Comtesse d’Haussonville, Titian’s Man in a Red Cap, Frans Hals’s Portrait of a Man, Jean-François Millet’s Woman Sewing by Lamplight.

The piece that steals the show and the attention of its audience, is Johannes Vermeer’s Girl Interrupted at Her Music, which is one of only 36 known works by this artist. This was the first painting of Vermeer’s that Henry acquired during his lifetime. He later acquired two others, Officer and Laughing Girl and Mistress and Maid, owning a sizeable fraction, one-twelfth, of all the Vermeer’s in the world. In 1936, after Henry passed away and Helen took over his collection, The Frick Collection had an opportunity to purchase a fourth Vermeer, but Helen declined. She felt three would suffice.

During Henry’s lifetime, Vermeer’s Girl Interrupted at Her Music hung at the Frick family home in Pittsburgh, called Clayton, which is where Helen grew up with her mother and older brother, Childs, and which she eventually inherited and preserved along with the property at The Frick Pittsburgh. Girl Interrupted at Her Music returning to Pittsburgh is somewhat of a full-circle moment after being featured just last year in the Rijksmuseum’s sold-out landmark Vermeer retrospective in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

While the exhibition is as much about the world-class acclaim of the art, it is every bit as connected to the Frick family. An endearing part of the exhibition is a painting titled House and Piers by none other than Childs Frick, Henry’s son and Helen’s older brother, which like the Vermeer, hung in the halls at Clayton.

One of Van Meer’s paintings.

The exhibition is also more than the museum. The Frick Pittsburgh’s Director of Learning & Visitor Experience, Amanda Gillen, developed interactive programs that complement the art with curators’ conversations, concerts featuring French Impressionist and Dutch Baroque music with Pittsburgh’s Symphony Orchestra and Daphne Alderson, guided evening exhibition tours, a day-long symposium, and multiple full-day programs at Clayton, Carrie Blast Furnaces National Historic Landmark, and West Overton Village in Westmoreland County. According to Amanda Gillen, “Our art museum is her art museum. Helen spent her life caring for her family’s possessions and works of art as well as furnishing her father’s legacy. She was instrumental in a quiet background kind of way, but this exhibition is bringing Helen to the forefront.”

However, unlike Helen’s response to acquiring an additional Vermeer, visiting this exhibition just three times will not suffice, it is one to see over and over and over again. Once more, “Vermeer, Monet, Rembrandt: Forging the Frick Collections in Pittsburgh & New York,” is on display at The Frick Pittsburgh from now until July 14, 2024. For more information and to secure tickets to the exhibition and its other programs, visit


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