Henry Clay Frick: An Intimate Portrait

Henry Clay Frick: An Intimate Portrait

by Martha Frick Symington Sanger




With unprecedented access to personal letters, private family diaries, and the Frick archives at the Frick Collection in New York City and at family residences in Pittsburgh, Martha Frick Symington Sanger has written a unique and penetrating account of the life and times of Henry Clay Frick and his family. In addition, the author explains in this meticulously researched book the reason why Frick and his daughter Helen selected the paintings, sculpture, and other items that are included in the collection.

Since 1935 the magnificent art treasures of the Frick Collections have been open to the public in the New York City mansion that the family occupied. This book will enrich any visitor's experience of the Frick Collection in a way that had not been possible in previous books. The intriguing topics covered here include Frick's complex relationship with Andrew Carnegie and with other well-known business magnates; his harsh personal life darkened by the deaths of a younger daughter and infant son; and a sensitive portrayal of his daughter Helen, who was a Frick Collection trustee and chairman of the Art Acquisitions Committee after her father's death.

Illustrating this book are 370 pictures ranging from paintings and sculpture in the Frick Collection to family portraits and historical images. This biography of a key figure in the development of American industry will appeal to both art history lovers and to historians, offering a singular and compelling reading and visual experience.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780789205001
Publisher: Abbeville Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/01/1998
Pages: 600
Product dimensions: 8.50(w) x 10.90(h) x 2.00(d)

About the Author

Martha Frick Symington Sanger, who lives in Maryland, has lectured about Henry Clay Frick, and has served on camera and a a consultant for a public television documentary about Henry Clay Frick and Andrew Carnegie.

Read an Excerpt

Henry Clay Frick

An Intimate Portrait

By Martha Frick Symington Sanger

Abbeville Press

Copyright © 1998 Martha Frick Symington Sanger
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7892-0500-1


Although my great-grandfather, Henry Clay Frick, died in 1919, he has remained a living presence within our family. Because he was renowned as an art collector, respected as an industrial genius, and despised as an oppressor of labor, the combination of his memory and reputation makes him a difficult ancestor to understand and embrace.

The recent death of my mother has made me realize how complex this accommodation is for me, in particular. I am the fifth Martha in the Childs and Frick families (see foldout opposite). Martha is a lovely, traditional name for a daughter, but, because of one predecessor named Martha, it resonates hauntingly across generations of our family.

The first two Marthas were my great-grandfather's mother-in-law, Martha Howard Childs, and her unmarried daughter of the same name. The third Martha was a Frick, Martha Howard, and it was for her that both my mother and I were named. This short-lived child has had more influence on the family than anyone except her father. Born in 1885 and the first daughter of Henry Clay Frick and Adelaide Howard Childs Frick, she was nicknamed "Rosebud" because of her creamy complexion and soft red curls. By all accounts, she was a beautiful and endearing daughter. The circumstances of her death in 1891, one week prior to her sixth birthday and after suffering a four-year, harrowing illness, haunted Frick for the rest of his life as intensely as the Frick family is beset by his memory, reputation, and near-living presence.

Martha's legacy is one of grief and disappointment. My maternal grandmother, Frances Dixon Frick, was married to Childs Frick, the only surviving son of Henry Clay Frick and older brother of the ill-fated Martha. The pressure on Frances to produce a son who would bear Henry Clay Frick's name was enormous. But she gave birth to two daughters and then in 1917 to a third, my mother. Longing to please her father-in-law, my grandmother named her third daughter for the only individual she would have known to be more important to Henry Clay Frick than life itself—Martha Howard Frick, his deceased child.

Frances Frick produced a son two years later, named Henry Clay Frick II, and soon focused all her attention on this long-awaited grandchild. Henry Clay Frick's death months after this boy was born did nothing to dilute Frances's affection.

With the inevitability of genetics, my mother also gave birth to three daughters—and then a son. But my brother's birth in 1945, twenty-six years after my great-grandfather's death, came at a time when she would have felt less pressure to perpetuate the name of Henry Clay Frick. She named her son, therefore, after her husband. But my mother, like my grandmother, had been disappointed by the birth of a third daughter. She well knew the family significance of the ill-fated Martha Howard Frick. Reminding me that I was the dead child's namesake, she warned that I was a spare child and that I was cursed, like all the Frick Marthas.

As a child and young woman, I did not think much about the curse and whether or not it existed. Nor did I think much about my great-grandfather, his art collection, his role as an industrialist, or his reputation as an oppressor of the working class. But in my mid-forties the past asserted itself, and I came to suspect that Henry Clay Frick's posthumous influence on me was more profound than I had realized. After my sixteen-year marriage to a grandson of Planned Parenthood's founder, Margaret Sanger, ended in divorce, I discovered that Alexander Berkman, Frick's would-be assassin during the 1892 Homestead steel strike—a strike that drew national and international attention as a near-civil war between labor and management—had become one of Sanger's lovers. I also learned that when Berkman attacked Frick, Martha, who had died the previous year, appeared to Frick in a visitation as clearly as if she were alive.


Excerpted from Henry Clay Frick by Martha Frick Symington Sanger. Copyright © 1998 Martha Frick Symington Sanger. Excerpted by permission of Abbeville Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction 13
I. Birth of a Millionaire 25
II. Honeymoons and Horrors 77
III. As Martha Dies 127
IV. Triumph Over Labor 167
V. Emotions, Apparitions, and Art 223
VI. Pittsburgh Exodus 273
VII. Bridging the Hereafter 313
VIII. Final Days 383
IX. Shrouded Legacy 413
X. Her Father's Voice 483
Afterword 539

Appendix 541
Notes 551
Bibliography 566
Acknowledgments 582
Photography credits 590
Index 591

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