Charles and Emma Frye began collecting art in 1893 focusing primarily on French and German artists from the 19th and early 20th centuries. The couple built an impressive Founding Collection of 230 paintings, now on permanent display at their namesake museum in Seattle’s Capitol Hill area. The museum is open to the public at no charge, as the Fryes intended when they established the Charles and Emma Frye Free Public Art Museum in 1952.
The Fryes had a particular interest in German painters of the mid-19th Century Munich School including Wilhelm Leibl, Franz von Lenbach and Max Slevogt whose works, along with other prominent painters of the period, are part of the Founding Collection.
The Frye’s Permanent Collection includes not only those works collected by Charles and Emma, but also later acquisitions made by the Frye Foundation. These later aquisitions expanded the collection to include American artists as well as European painters other than the French and German artists the couple built their original collection upon.
Gilbert Stuart and John Singleton Copley’s Colonial Period paintings hang alongside the American Realism works of Winslow Homer and Thomas Eakins. Mary Cassatt, James McNeil Whistler, and John Singer Sargent are among the ex-pat painters whose Impressionist works are displayed.
The vast collection of paintings covers every wall in the Frye Salon with the works hung as they once were in the Frye’s home gallery. The Frye Salon is reminiscent of Boston’s Isabella Gardener Stewart Museum. In other words, there is not much space between the works and they are not hung in any apparent order— historical, religious and allegorical paintings hang beside portraits, landscapes and seascapes. There are several copies of a hardcover guide available to visitors in the gallery that identifies and describes each work and artist.
In addition to the Permanent Collection, there are several changing contemporary exhibitions.
We enjoyed the two Andy Warhol exhibitions currently on view. During the 1970s, Warhol recorded a reported 40,000 Polaroids documenting his personal and professional endeavors. Warhol’s Little Red Book #178 is a collection of 19 Polaroid pictures of his friends and other celebrities taken in 1970 while he made his film L’Amour.
From 1964-1966, Warhol recorded hundreds of visitors to his studio, called The Factory, using a Bolex camera. Warhol’s 12 Screen Tests features artists and celebrities who were instructed to sit still for the length of a 16 mm film—about three minutes. Subjects featured in 12 Screen Tests include Dennis Hopper, Edie Sedgwick, Susan Sontag, Lou Reed, Bob Dylan, Marcel Duchamp and Brooke Hayward. Not everyone was capable of the task assigned. Bob Dylan’s Screen Test shows him smoking a cigarette and fidgeting throughout.
Also on view is Structure and Ornament, a multi media exhibition of Leo Saul Berk’s work based on the iconic Chicago-area Ford House, his childhood home.
The artist refers to his work as “a riff on the house,” which has historical significance and was designed by architect Bruce Goff. The exhibition includes the history of the home, photographs and films, along with Berk’s sculptures and other works, based upon the unique structure and the artist’s memories of living there.
Also currently on view is: American Portraits: 1880-1915– a selection of portraiture by artists whose works are included in the Founding Collection.
The Museum has a nice little café with an outdoor garden. Sandwiches, soups, sweets and other simple but satisfying offerings are available at very reasonable prices.
When we arrived at the Frye Museum, we were told that one of the galleries was closed for yoga, but would soon reopen. Every Sunday morning, a yoga class takes place there, accompanied by local experimental musicians—just one of the creative classes the Museum hosts along with art classes for everyone from pre-schoolers to life-long learners, meditation, film presentations, lectures, performances and creative aging programs for adults suffering dementia. A complete program listing is available at www.fryemuseum.org.
Charles and Emma Frye would no doubt be pleased to see their wish– that the public enjoy free access to art, that ‘perfection of good-nature,’ continues to be a reality today, thanks to their free art museum.