Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Rembrandt Has the Last Laugh

Henry Clay Frick was one of the more famous or infamous robber barons of the 19th century.(1849-1919) He owned or controlled most of the coke and steel output in the East.

Frick was, by all accounts, a typical CEO of those days - ruthless in business, highly competitive with his colleagues and compassionless with his workers.

He even built a mansion in New York City to rival that of his friend, Andrew Carnegie. Frick said he was building a mansion to "make Carnegie's place look like a miner's shack." Frick stocked his home with art - mainly European paintings from the old Masters. This is where Rembrandt might have had the last laugh.

Frick paid top dollar for Rembrandt's works. In the 1890s it was truly top dollar as Rembrandt was highly prized. Frick even arranged to have first rights of refusal on all Rembrandts.

Actually, some of the paintings were not Rembrandts, but "in the style of Rembrandt." One of the most controversial being "The Polish Rider," which had been the highlight of an exhibit by Frick.

Two other "Rembrandts" in Frick's collection have been since been attributed to unknown artists - probably students of the Master. They are: "Portrait of a Young Artist" and "Old Woman with a Book."

Can you imagine what Frick would have done if he had lived to know that he paid top price for art now regarded as being from the "Rembrandt School?" Poetic justice, perhaps?


  1. I studied the robber barons. So many of them were like Frick. At least he left his home and art for the rest of us. Jon

  2. Just goes to show, what goes around, comes around.

  3. @ Jon - Considering how he treated his employees, that seems the least he could do. I agree with Britt.

  4. He did collect some pretty impressive artists. If you haven't been to the Frick Museum in NYC, I recommend it... but then I prefer the small museums.