Skip to main content

Art Collecting Files of Henry Clay Frick

Identifier: ACF

Scope and Content

The Art Collecting Files of Henry Clay Frick, 1881-1925 and undated, consist of correspondence, invoices and financial records, catalogs, inventories, registers, notes, narrative descriptions, and printed material documenting the selection, purchase, exhibition, and disposition of works of art in Frick's collection. A small number of items in the collection date from after Frick's death, including a catalog and documents regarding claims against the Frick Estate.

This is a digital collection that unites the collections formerly known as the Henry Clay Frick Art Collection Files and the Henry Clay Frick Papers, Series I: Art Files. These materials have been supplemented with scanned items from the Henry Clay Frick Papers, Series II: Correspondence, Series III: Voucher Files, Series V: Subject Files, the One East 70th Street Papers, and the Eagle Rock Papers. This digitized material is available by clicking the folder titles within the container list below or through Frick Digital Collections.

Materials are arranged in six series: I: Purchases, 1881-1921 and undated; II: Catalogs and Works Exhibited, 1906-[1925]; III: Inventories and Lists, 1903-circa 1925 and undated; IV: Correspondence, Correspondence, 1895-1921; V: Art Not Purchased, Art Not Purchased, 1897-1919; and VI: Printed Material and Miscellanea, 1897-1917 and undated.

The bulk of the collection is contained in Series I: Purchases, 1881-1921 and undated, which consists of bill books, registers, and purchase files. Documentation varies greatly from one painting to another, but may include correspondence with dealers, artists, financial institutions, and others connected with the transaction; invoices; canceled checks; vouchers; shipping and insurance documents; descriptions of art works; biographical information about artists or portrait subjects; and newspaper clippings. Many files contain red expanding wallet envelopes used by Frick's office staff to house documents pertaining to his acquisitions. These are referred to in the container list below as "red envelopes." In some cases, acquisition documentation may be limited to only a red envelope, or to purely transactional papers such as receipts and vouchers. Bound volumes are grouped first in this series, followed by acquisition files arranged chronologically.

Series II: Catalogs and Works Exhibited, 1906-[1925] contains information about paintings loaned for public exhibition, as well as published and unpublished descriptions of Frick's collection. Arranged chronologically, these files document loans to museums, galleries, societies, and for fundraising purposes during the first World War. Among the institutions to whom he lent paintings are the Metropolitan Museum of Art and M. Knoedler & Co., both in New York, and the Museum of Fine Arts and the Copley Society, both located in Boston. For more information about public access to Frick’s collection, see the requests to visit his galleries in Series IV: Correspondence. In addition to loan documentation, this series also contains published catalogs of Frick’s collection, issued in 1908, 1916, and [1925], as well two handwritten catalogs compiled by his daughter, Helen Clay Frick, circa 1910.

Series III: Inventories and Lists, 1903-circa 1925 and undated, contains accounting summaries, lists of paintings, and inventories of art objects and furniture at various Frick residences. A number of the inventories and lists contained here seem to have been prepared for bookkeeping or insurance purposes. Inventories and lists may document works by particular artists, paintings returned to the dealer, or works moved between Frick’s homes in Pittsburgh, New York, and Massachusetts. Files are arranged chronologically.

Series IV: Correspondence, 1895-1921, contains files of Frick’s correspondence with art dealers and publishers, along with numerous requests to visit his gallery. Topics discussed may include potential works for acquisition, the activities of other collectors and dealers, and the reproduction of works for publication. Requests to visit Frick’s gallery were made by individuals and groups who wished to see the collection while it was still housed in a private residence, and provide some insight into the extent to which Frick allowed the public to view his collection. This series also contains a letterpress copybook of Frick's replies on various matters related to art collecting and the administration of his collection. Correspondents in the letterbook include Charles Carstairs, Roland F. Knoedler, Alice Creelman, Roger Fry, and Joseph Duveen.

Series V: Works Not Purchased, 1897-1919, documents works of art that were offered, considered, or pursued, but ultimately not purchased by Frick. Arranged chronologically, these include works by Holbein, Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Houdon, Memling, and Titian. As with the acquisitions files in Series I: Purchases, the amount of documentation varies significantly from one file to another, but may contain correspondence, expense summaries, expert opinions, and clippings. Additionally, this series contains a list of articles on approval at One East 70th Street that were removed by Duveen Brothers shortly before Frick’s death.

Series VI: Printed Material and Miscellanea, 1897-1917 and undated, contains photographs of works purchased by Frick and later returned, catalogs from American and British galleries, notes, and a handful of articles about Frick’s collection published during his lifetime. The catalogs contained here largely concern the sale of works on paper, furniture, and decorative arts objects. While Frick did purchase selected items from George B. Warren's collection of porcelains, it has not been confirmed whether or not Frick acquired items from any of the other catalogs here.


  • 1881-1925, undated


Access Restrictions

These records are open for research under the conditions of The Frick Collection/Frick Art Reference Library Archives Access Policy. To consult the papers that form this digital collection in person, an appointment is required. For all inquiries or to schedule an appointment, please contact the Archives Department at

Biographical Note

Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919) was a prominent industrialist and art collector who made his fortune in the coal, coke, steel, and railroad industries. Born into modest circumstances in West Overton, Pa., Frick ended his formal education in his late teens. In 1871, he borrowed money to purchase a share in a coking concern that would eventually become the H.C. Frick Coke Co. Over the next decade, he continued to expand his business through the acquisition of more coal lands and coke ovens, and became a partner of fellow industrialist Andrew Carnegie in 1882. Frick assumed the chairmanship of Carnegie Bros. & Co. (later Carnegie Steel Co.) in 1889, and served in that capacity until his resignation from the company in December 1899. During his tenure as chairman, differences between Frick and Carnegie emerged, most significantly in their approach to labor issues. The 1892 Homestead Strike further strained relations between the two men, and in 1899, Frick permanently severed his relationship with Carnegie.

In December 1881, Frick married Adelaide Howard Childs of Pittsburgh. The couple purchased a house (Clayton), and had four children: Childs Frick (1883-1965), Martha Howard Frick (1885-1891), Helen Clay Frick (1888-1984), and Henry Clay Frick, Jr. (born 1892, died in infancy). After his break with Carnegie, Frick began spending less time in Pittsburgh, and soon established additional residences in New York and Massachusetts. In 1905, he signed a ten-year lease on the Vanderbilt mansion at 640 Fifth Avenue in New York, and built an elaborate summer residence (Eagle Rock) on Boston's North Shore, which was completed in 1906. Though Frick maintained his status as a Pittsburgh resident for the remainder of his life, he and his family chiefly divided their time between Massachusetts and New York. In 1907, Frick purchased land at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 70th Street in New York. Construction on a new residence, designed by Thomas Hastings of the firm Carrère and Hastings, began in 1912, after the demolition of the Lenox Library formerly on the site. The family moved into the house at One East 70th Street in the fall of 1914, and Henry Clay Frick died there on 2 December 1919.

While there is evidence that Frick had an interest in art collecting as early as 1871, little is known about his early exposure to art, or his earliest acquisitions. His first recorded purchase occurred in 1881, when he acquired George Hetzel's Landscape with River. Frick purchased only a few paintings over the next decade, but by the mid-1890's, he was steadily acquiring new pictures at the rate of about one per month. His taste during this period ran toward contemporary French artists, such as Bouguereau and Cazin, and Barbizon School landscapes. After the turn of the century, however, Frick's taste shifted to eighteenth century English portraits and seventeenth century Dutch paintings, including works by Gainsborough, Lawrence, Vermeer, Cuyp, and Hobbema. He purchased his first Italian Renaissance painting, Titian's Pietro Aretino, along with the first of his eight Van Dycks in 1905, the same year he and his family took up residence in the Vanderbilt mansion at 640 Fifth Avenue in New York. Major acquisitions during this period include Rembrandt's Self-Portrait, El Greco's Purification of the Temple, a second painting by Vermeer ( Officer and Laughing Girl), and Holbein's Sir Thomas More. In 1914, the same year the Frick family moved into their newly constructed New York house at One East 70th Street, Frick's purchases included works by Gainsborough, Goya, Renoir, Turner and Whistler, among others. From 1915 until his death in 1919, Frick purchased fewer paintings overall, but added works by Bellini, Boucher, Bronzino, Hoppner, and Stuart, as well as additional works Titian, Holbein, and Vermeer.

Although Frick purchased from many dealers while building his collection, he heavily favored the firm of M. Knoedler & Co. Roland Knoedler, Charles Knoedler, and Charles Carstairs were considered friends as well as advisers on art, and Frick made more purchases through them than he did from any other source. One major exception to this, however, is Frick's association with Duveen Brothers. Although Frick's ties to this firm date back to 1906, when rugs, porcelains, and other objects were purchased for the Frick family's Massachusetts estate, it was not until after the death of J.P. Morgan in 1913 that Frick made his most important acquisitions from them. From 1915 through 1918, Frick purchased millions of dollars' worth of Renaissance bronzes, Chinese porcelains, Limoges enamels, and furniture from the Morgan estate through Joseph Duveen. In 1915, Frick also agreed to purchase the series of panels by Fragonard entitled The Progress of Love (also referred to as The Romance of Love and Youth). The installation of these panels in the Frick residence necessitated a complete renovation of the drawing room in the newly completed house. In addition to Knoedler and Duveen, Frick acquired paintings through domestic and European galleries such as Arthur Tooth & Sons, L. Crist Delmonico, The Ehrich Galleries, and Durand-Ruel & Sons. Frick also occasionally acquired works through individuals, including Virginia P. Bacon, Alice Creelman, and Roger Fry.

Henry Clay Frick's acquisitions were carefully considered, and he often kept pictures on approval in his home for months before deciding whether to purchase or return them. In certain instances, though, works of art were bought sight unseen, or brought over from Europe at his expense but not purchased. As Frick's collection grew and his taste evolved, he sometimes returned works for credit towards another painting, and pictures were also sometimes acquired with the option to return them for full credit within a given period of time. In some cases, he actively sought the opinions of art experts such as Roger Fry, Carel F. de Wild, and Charles Henry Hart before consenting to an acquisition.

Although Frick continued to acquire works of art until his death in 1919 (his last purchase was Vermeer's Mistress and Maid), he quietly established plans to open his collection to the public after his death as early as 1915. In his will, dated 24 June 1915, Frick bequeathed his New York City residence, including furnishings, art, and decorative objects, as a museum "for the purpose of establishing and maintaining a gallery of art...and encouraging and developing the study of the fine arts, and of advancing the general knowledge of kindred subjects." The museum was endowed with funds for maintenance, building alterations, and acquisitions of art. Henry Clay Frick's widow continued to live at the residence until her death in 1931. At that time, the building was extensively renovated, and opened to the public as The Frick Collection in December 1935.

Sources consulted:

Grier, H.D.M. "Henry Clay Frick, Art Collector," in The Frick Collection: An Illustrated Catalogue, Vol. 1, Paintings. New York: The Frick Collection; [Princeton, N.J.]: Distributed by Princeton University Press, 1968.

Grier, H.D.M. Introduction to Masterpieces of The Frick Collection, by Edgar Munhall. New York: Frick Collection, 1970.

Ryskamp, Charles, et al. Art in the Frick Collection: Paintings, Sculpture, Decorative Arts. New York: Harry N. Abrams in association with the Frick Collection, 1996.


15.5 Linear feet (20 boxes, 5 volumes, and 3 containers of oversize material)

Language of Materials



Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919), a Pittsburgh coke and steel industrialist, began forming his art collection in 1881, and continued to acquire works of art until his death in 1919. He bequeathed his New York City residence, furnishings, and art collection to be established as a public art gallery called The Frick Collection, which opened to the public in December 1935. This collection contains correspondence, invoices and financial records, catalogs, inventories, registers, notes, narrative descriptions, and printed material documenting the selection, purchase, exhibition, and disposition of art works in his collection from the years 1881 to 1925, with the bulk of the papers documenting purchases.


Materials are arranged in six series:

Series I. Purchases, 1881-1921, undated

Series II: Catalogs and Works Exhibited, 1906-[1925]

Series III. Inventories and Lists, 1903-circa 1925, undated

Series IV. Correspondence, 1895-1921

Series V. Art Not Purchased, 1897-1919

Series VI. Printed Material and Miscellanea, 1897-1917, undated

Custodial History

In the fall of 1953, Helen Clay Frick, Henry Clay Frick's daughter, split his art collection files, sending selected materials to The Frick Collection for curatorial use, while retaining approximately eight linear feet of files related to her father's art collecting activities. Those files became the property of the Helen Clay Frick Foundation upon the death of Miss Frick in 1984, and were gifted to The Frick Collection/Frick Art Reference Library Archives in 2015. The two collections were digitized and reunited online through a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York in 2015-2016.


Gifts of Helen Clay Frick, 1953-1954, and the Helen Clay Frick Foundation, 2015. Digitized through a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, 2015-2016.

Processing Information

Arranged and described by Julie Ludwig, Susan Chore, and Katie Martinez, with additional assistance from Shannon Morelli.

Finding Aid for the Art Collecting Files of Henry Clay Frick, 1881-1925, undated
Arranged and described by Julie Ludwig, Susan Chore, and Katie Martinez, with encoding assistance from Shannon Morelli
© 2016 The Frick Collection. All rights reserved.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Finding aid prepared as part of a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, 2015-2016

Repository Details

Part of the Frick Collection/Frick Art Reference Library Archives Repository

10 East 71st Street
New York NY 10021 United States