Top 10 Most Beautiful Paintings of Women at The Frick Collection
‘Museum,’ wrote Claude Clemens, ‘most accurately is the place where the Muses dwell’ (qtd. in Findlen 23). Arguably the founders of the first picture gallery, the Greeks, are responsible for much of the rich history, language, and tradition associated with museums. An age-old theme in classical, early Christian, and Byzantine art provides the namesake for the modern conception of the museum. The word musaeum derives from the ancient Greek name for the temple of the Museums, or patron goddesses of the art.
It’s fitting then, that we turn our attention to The Frick and its muses. Located just about ten blocks south of The Metropolitan Museum of Art on Fifth Avenue, The Frick Collection is a jewel box rather than a cavernous temple. The Frick houses the collection of Pennsylvania-born industrialist Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919). Upon his death, Frick bequeathed his art collection and Beaux-Arts mansion to New York City to establish a public museum. The collection is comprised primarily of Old Master and Nineteenth Century paintings.
Few would dispute Frick’s taste–in painting, architecture, or design. And while he certainly benefited from the counsel of the day’s tastemaker, Frick had an eye for beauty and a knack for collecting.
1. Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780-1867), Comtesse d’Haussonville, 1845
Ingres’ portrait of Louise, Princesse de Brogile is beguiling. With a tilt of her head and a coy smile, the young Princess quietly and ultimately successfully, engages us in the art of seduction. Her milky white complexion and relaxed posture suggest that she is well aware of her beauty. (This is Ingres at his very best!)
2. François Boucher (1703-1770), A Lady on Her Day Bed, 1743
Commonly referred to as “Boucher’s Untidy Venus”, this portrait of a young woman is all about luxury. Resting comfortably on a chaise lounge, the sitter, thought to be the artist’s wife, hasn’t a care in the world. Her pose is reminiscent of Renaissance depictions of Venus, the goddess of love.
3. George Romney (1734-1802), Lady Hamilton as ‘Nature’, 1782
Photo: George Romney, Lady Hamilton as ‘Nature’, 1782 , The Frick Collection
Ranking in the Top Ten is no easy feat. In spite of the fierce competition, Lady Hamilton remains a perennial favorite. In her time, Emma was a universally celebrated beauty who rose to affluence through her captivating looks and natural elegance. Her famous lovers include Sir William Hamilton and Lord Horatio Nelson.
4. Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830), Julia, Lady Peel, 1827
Photo: Sir Thomas Lawrence, Julia, Lady Peel, 1827 The Frick Collection
An English Rose with an impeccable sense of style! Is Lady Peel a trendsetter, an actress, or has Sir Thomas Lawrence taken some creative liberties? In fact, Lawrence is paying homage to Peter Paul Rubens’ famous seventeenth-century portrait ‘Le Chapeau de Paille’.
5. Anthony Van Dyck (1599-1641), Marchesa Giovanna Cattaneo, 1622-27
During his lifetime, Van Dyck’s portraits were held in high esteem in England and Continental Europe. He was employed by King James I of England and the Genoese court. Giovanna Cattaneo is a Titan-esque beauty with curling tendrils of red hair and a confident demeanor. Giovanna commands our attention, while we are made to look (longingly) up at her. Fun fact: Frick purchased eight works by Van Dyck!
6. Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788), Grace Dalrymple Elliott, ca. 1782
Photo: Thomas Gainsborough, Grace Dalrymple Elliott, ca. 1782 The Frick Collection
The Frick has a number of Gainsborough’s exquisite paintings. And yet, the others pale in comparison to the sitter. Grace is really something else. The stunning beauty with bedroom eyes that nearly pierce the soul was a renowned courtesan and a mistress of the Prince of Wales. It is thought that the Prince himself commissioned this uncharacteristically provocative example of British portraiture.
7. Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825), Comtesse Daru, 1810
Photo: Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825), Comtesse Daru, 1810 The Frick Collection
David was truly adept at navigating the ebbs and flows of French politics. He easily transitioned from painting allegorical figures of the French Revolution to Napoleon’s official portraits. This sensitivity, as it were, is seen here in his lovely portrayal of Comtesse Daru, The Countess, Alexandrine, sports a fashionable coiffure and a casually draped cashmere shawl.
8. Sir Henry Raeburn (1756-1823), Mrs. James Cruikshank, 1805-08
Photo: Sir Henry Raeburn, Mrs. James Cruikshank, 1805-08 Henry Clay Frick Bequest
Mrs. Cruikshank, or Margaret, is an unconventional beauty, but a looker nonetheless. Raeburn expertly renders her warm, sympathetic eyes, rosy cheeks, and carefully measured expression. Fun fact: A portrait of Margaret’s husband, also painted by Raeburn, resides at The Frick!
9. Paolo Veronese (ca. 1528-1588), Wisdom and Strength, ca. 1565
Photo: Paolo Veronese, Wisdom and Strength, ca. 1565 The Frick Collection
For she is a goddess and we mere mortals! Veronese’s sumptuous rendering of Wisdom is one for the books. Bare chested, in Venetian opulence, jewels and worldly concerns at her feet, she gazes upwards, while “Strength” seems to recede into the background. This allegory and celebration of wisdom has a particularly illustrious provenance. Its past owners include the Queen Christina of Sweden and the Duc d’Orléans.
10. James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), Harmony in Pink and Gray: Potrait of Lady Meux, 1881-82
Photo: James McNeill Whistler, Harmony in Pink and Gray: Portrait of Lady Meux, 1881-82 Henry Clay Frick Bequest
Lady Meux, or Susan, was an actress and provocateur with a penchant for the dramatic. She ‘married up,’ and according to lore, was never quite home among her husband’s friends and colleagues. Whistler captures some of this here. Fashionably dressed and ready for an afternoon on the promenade, Lady Meux is almost defiant. She challenges us, the viewer, much in the same way that Manet’s Olympia does.
Featured Image (From Left to Right): Thomas Gainsborough, Grace Dalrymple Elliott, ca. 1782; Sir Thomas Lawrence, Julia, Lady Peel, 1827; George Romney, Lady Hamilton as ‘Nature’, 1782