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 1,100 works of art from the Renaissance to the late nineteenth century. In addition to paintings, for which the institution is best known, the holdings include works on paper; French, Italian, and English furniture; Limoges enamels; Sèvres, Meissen, and Chinese porcelains; silver; oriental carpets; historic picture frames; and a significant body of clocks and watches. Works in all media—apart from the paintings—are cared for on-site by the museum’s conservation team, which also has under its care the remarkable historic interiors of the mansion and subsequent additions. Frick conservators are responsible for addressing the long-term preservation needs of the collection through ongoing gallery maintenance and environmental monitoring, playing a central role in the installation of works of art as well as their lighting and other issues of presentation.

Additionally, the Frick Art Reference Library houses specialty conservation and digital imaging labs, whose joint responsibility is to maintain and make available research materials. These consist of the general and special book collections, the photo archive, and archives from the library, museum, and the Helen Clay Frick Foundation. The department is also responsible for the care of Henry Clay Frick’s private library, on view in the museum.

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 inaccessibility and small size of the laboratories severely limit the types of objects that can be assessed and treated there. This is why the Frick envisions enlarging and modernizing the institution’s conservation areas, providing an up-to-date environment where its specialists can continue to preserve and study the collections of the museum and library, while having the resources to maintain the historic mansion to the highest standards possible.

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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