Preserving Our Masterpieces

Conservation work is an essential part of the Frick’s behind-the-scenes efforts. The Frick houses a permanent collection of more than 1,500 works of art from the Renaissance to the late nineteenth century. In addition to paintings, for which the institution is best known, its holdings include works on paper; French, Italian, and English furniture; Limoges enamels; Sèvres, Meissen, Du Paquier, and Chinese porcelain; silver; portrait medals; Oriental carpets; historic picture frames; and a significant collection of clocks and watches. Works in all media—apart from the paintings—are cared for onsite by the museum’s conservation team, which also cares for the historic interiors of the mansion and subsequent additions. Frick conservators are responsible for the long-term preservation needs of the collection through ongoing gallery maintenance and environmental monitoring and play a central role in the installation and lighting of works of art.

The Frick Art Reference Library houses specialty conservation and digital imaging studios that maintain and make available its vast book collections, photo archive, and the combined archives of the library, museum, and the Helen Clay Frick Foundation. The library’s conservation department also is responsible for the care of Henry Clay Frick’s private library and works on paper in the museum’s permanent collection, including prints and drawings by artists such as Rembrandt, Gainsborough, Goya, Ingres, and Whistler.

Conservation facilities, currently located in the original mansion and 1935 library building, occupy non-purpose-built, adapted spaces. They lack many modern amenities, and the studios’ inaccessibility and small size severely limit the types of objects that can be assessed and treated. The new conservation lab will have dedicated workspace, state-of-the-art equipment, and the necessary amenities to provide the highest caliber of care that the collection requires. The conservation area of the library also will include a lab for the digitization of the library’s collections to make them more accessible to users both onsite and remotely.

Both conservation departments play a role in training the next generation of specialists through internship programs. In collaboration with major graduate programs, students satisfy key academic requirements and obtain invaluable hands-on experience working with the museum’s sculpture and decorative arts collections, while undergraduates and book-arts graduate students participate in internships at the Frick Art Reference Library.

The Magazine Antiques Looks at Conservation at the Frick

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