The Morgan vs. The Frick: Why dead rich guys shouldn’t have hoarding rights

You know what they say: money runs in the family, or at least the family name. And apparently so does art, and even though Mr. Morgan and Mr. Frick have “generously” made their collections “available” to the public, somehow they’re still making money off of it, going against my number one motto: art is for everyone.

I’ll give you the rundown on these two museums that began as hobbies for these men, a couple of the first true 1%-ers to begin the process of hoarding all the wealth and beauty for themselves:

The Morgan Library and Museum
$15 Adults

Outside view of the Morgan, photo from NYTimes.

$10 Students/Seniors/Children
Free on Fridays from 7pm-9pm

Ceiling paintings in Morgan Library, taken by me.

Originally the collection of John Pierpont (or JP) Morgan, an American financier and banker who arranged the merger of General Electric and created the Federal Steel Company. He died in 1913, leaving his fortune and business to his son John Pierpont “Jack” Morgan Jr. On Wikipedia it says he left his mansion and collections to become the Morgan Library and Museum, but on the museum website, it says his son didn’t “give his father’s extraordinary library to the public” until 1924.

The museum itself is pretty remarkable, but with all that money how could it not be? A relatively new addition is an open glass-box structure that doesn’t even need artificial lighting, and unlike the Frick, they usually have around five temporary exhibits that focus on a single artist or time period. It’s more of your typical museum with moving galleries – most of Morgan’s collection is in the Library section.

Right now for example they have the Josef Albers: Art in America exhibit that I reviewed, plus a pretty cool Churchill: The Power of Words gallery that features a three-screen documentary about his role in WWII, plus letters and awards received and sent by Churchill while he was alive.

Inside the Morgan Library, photo from Architectural Record

These five exhibits exist separately from Mr. Morgan’s original collection, that resides mostly in the Library section, a different building linked to the glass Museum. Here, there are impressive ceiling paintings commissioned by Morgan, with four lavish rooms filled with books and ancient artifacts. Everything is left pretty much the same as he kept it, so much so that there aren’t even labels or identifiers next to the paintings that date back as far as the 12th century. You have to search for each piece separately in a little booklet, and some rooms have no booklets at all. The pieces in display cases do have information though, and in the largest library room you can find handwritten sheet music from Brahms, Debussy and Mozart.

The Frick Collection:
$18 Adults

Outside the Frick, photo from

$15 Seniors/$10 Students
Free on Sundays from 11am-1pm (but boy is it crowded)

Henry Clay Frick who saw the turn of the 20th century at nearly the same time as Morgan, was an industrialist, financier, and art patron who served as chairman of the Carnegie Steel Company and financed the construction of the Pennsylvania Railroad. called him one of the “Worst American CEOs of All Time,” and he has a pretty terrible reputation stemming from his ruthlessness in business.

Sixteen years after his death the Frick Collection opened its doors, fulfilling Frick’s intention to leave his collection to the city, although for the life of me I can’t figure out why it took so long. The neoclassical mansion he built on Central Park became the Frick Collection we visit now, with everything left exactly the way he left it, the only exception being the small downstairs space now used for the one temporary gallery.

Prime example of my frustration. Yes that is Jan Vermeer’s Officer with a Laughing Woman (1657) behind the chair that you can’t sit on. Photo from NYTimes.

This is the part that most frustrates me. Everything is EXACTLY the way he left it, with little clear numbers marking the pieces instead of proper labels, with some left completely unnumbered and unnamed. To me, this is just selfish. He wanted everything to exist just as he had it, as if that’s some way to remain immortal, while the artists never receive the proper credit for the masterpieces they created. And there are some ridiculously famous paintings here, so many that I personally consider it a crime for this place to ever charge admission. The Frick hoards has Rembrandt’s self portrait from 1658, Titian’s famed “Portrait of a Man in a Red Cap,” plus multiple pieces by Jan Vermeer, JMW Turner, Hans Memling, and El Greco. Just check out the collections’s archives to see for yourself. Pretty much every piece I’ve ever studied in my art history classes that isn’t at the Met.

These artists did far more than Frick ever did, and yet somehow some of their most renowned pieces are stuck in his hallways without labels. There are old roped off chairs beneath them so you can’t see them properly or look close, and random little statuettes everywhere that they don’t even bother to number or name. Plus there’s really terrible placement of legitimate masterpieces in too-dark transition rooms and out in the hallways – people just walk past without noticing.

Portrait of a Man in a Red Cap, Titian, 1516, oil on canvas.
Frick Collection.
Self-portrait, Rembrandt, 1658, oil on canvas.
Unfortunately at the  Frick Collection.

Art should be for everyone. No one should be able to buy The Scream or own a Rembrandt. And it doesn’t help that these places you have to pay to get into are also the ones that don’t let you take pictures. They’re trying to hoard away the image itself, along with the original.

These works should belong to the people and should be seen by them too, not just by those who can afford the $18 admission price. It’s awesome that these places do have times when everyone can come and pay what they’re able, but the judgment I get when handing over my measly one dollar bill is not justified.

No one should have to pay to see the beautiful things that formed the foundations of modern art, especially those looking to learn and find inspiration. Plus, it’s not like these guys can’t afford it.

Lady Warwick and Children, George Romney, 1787-1789

Oil on canvas. Part of the Frick Collection, see it on the Frick website for more info.

A fairy-like pink-haired mother sits with her two young children standing beside her. Her little daughter looks up at her, wearing a white cotton dress, matching hat and blue-bowed shoes, her blonde hair shining and cheeks flushed. The little boy stands separate on the left, in his navy colonial-looking jacket with it’s white frill collar. His blonde hair looks just like his sister’s and he stares out at us with the same blue eyes as his mother.

Their features are perfectly synchronized, the family resemblance expertly rendered. The withdrawal behind their expressions makes it seem as if they’re trying to keep the secret of their beauty from getting out.