World Coins

Frick collection adds 450 art medals

The Frick Collection in New York City has announced a promised gift of 450 portrait medals from the Stephen K. and Janie Woo Scher Collection. 

The collection traces the development of the art of the medal from 15th century Italy through the 19th century and its strengths include medals from Italy, France, Germany, England and Netherlands. The collection will allow the Frick to better provide context to the art in its collection and expand on the role of portraiture across mediums. 

In announcing the collection, the Frick writes, “Considered to be the world’s greatest medals collection in private hands, rivaling and often surpassing those in American museums such as the National Gallery of Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, it is noted for its comprehensiveness and outstanding quality.” 

Connect with Coin World:  

It adds, “Given its sweeping scope across historical periods and the wide range of its subject matter, it will resonate with almost every work in the Frick’s permanent holdings. As such the Scher medals will enrich the experience of the museum’s viewing audience and stimulate scholarship on existing holdings in previously unanticipated ways.”

As Ian Wardropper, the Frick’s director, told the New York Times, which broke the story on April 28, “Many people don’t know what they [medals] are, so our job is to make them interested and possibly fall in love with them.” 

He said that medals would eventually have a dedicated space at the museum, and that the small, intimate museum was perfect for displaying medals, since “their small size demands intimacy.”

Major exhibition 

The medals will make their public debut at the Frick in a major spring/summer exhibition opening in May 2017. The show will be accompanied by public programming and an in-depth scholarly publication that catalogs the entirety of this important collection.

The medal collection will enhance the core collection of the Frick Collection, which largely houses the works collected by Pittsburgh industrialist Henry Clay Frick (1849 to 1919). The Frick is well-known as one of the finest small museums in the world, with masterpieces by a broad range of Western artists including Bellini, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Gainsborough, Goya, and Whistler.

Adjacent to the museum is the Frick Art Reference Library, which was founded in 1920 by Helen Clay Frick as a memorial to her father. Today the library is one of the leading institutions for research in the fields of art history and collecting.

The medals will especially enhance the Frick’s collection of portraits. 

The Frick notes, “For example, isolated masterpieces such as Bronzino’s portrait of Ludovico Capponi will be enriched with the addition of Italian mannerist medals by Abondio and the Leoni. Seventeenth-century Netherlandish silver medals vividly commemorate the political achievements and economic power that generated the flowering of the Golden Age of Dutch painting represented at the Frick by the portraits of Rembrandt and Hals. Finally, nineteenth-century French portraits, such as David’s Comtesse Daru and the bust of Etienne Vincent-Marniola by Chinard, will offer important points of connection to the revival of the medallic arts during the Napoleonic era.”

Frick would occasionally veer from his focus of European paintings and sculptures, such as in 1915 when he acquired Limoges enamels and Renaissance bronzes from the estate of J.P. Morgan. 

More recently the museum has been expanding its collection in other areas, including a collection of clocks and timepieces in 1999 and a collection of Meissen porcelain in 2008. 

In 2013, American Numismatic Society executive director Ute Wartenberg Kagan and her husband, Jonathan Kagan, donated an 1831 wax on slate portrait of L’Abbé de Lamennais by Pierre-Jean David d’Angers (1788 to 1856) in honor of Walter A. Eberstadt.

Providing context

On the role medals may hold within the greater Frick Collection, Wardropper said: “Henry Clay Frick had an abiding interest in portraiture as expressed in the paintings, sculpture, enamels, and works on paper he acquired. The Scher medals will coalesce beautifully with these holdings, being understood in our galleries within the broader contexts of European art and culture. At the same time, the intimate scale of the institution will offer a superb platform for the medals to be appreciated as an independent art form, one long overdue for fresh attention and public appreciation.”

Peter Jay Sharp chief curator Xavier F. Salomon added: “The Frick and the Schers have enjoyed a lengthy and rewarding relationship. Stephen Scher organized the landmark exhibitions The Currency of Fame (The Frick Collection and the National Gallery of Art, 1994) and The Proud Republic: Dutch Medals of the Golden Age (The Frick Collection, 1997). A world-renowned scholar, Dr. Scher has the ability to instill in new audiences an enthusiasm and appreciation for these remarkable objects. He brings to life these masterpieces of small-scale sculpture, compellingly conveying the circumstances of their creation and their historic significance today. The Frick has enjoyed hosting Dr. Scher as an educator on many occasions, from large public lectures to intimate scholarly seminars and school groups, and we look forward to developing programs with him in conjunction with the upcoming exhibition.” 

Medals from the collection have also enhanced more recent exhibits including Antico: The Golden Age of Renaissance Bronzes, in 2012. Recently, museums have been giving more attention to medals, such as the 2015 exhibition at London’s British Museum titled Triumph and Disaster: Medals of the Sun King, which explored how Louis XIV used medals as a form of propaganda during his reign. 

Wardropper concluded, “Although Henry Clay Frick did not collect medals, the beauty, artistry, and historical importance of the works in the Scher collection are in complete harmony with the founder’s collecting ethos.” 

Community Comments