Helen Clay Frick (1888-1984)

Helen Clay Frick
Théobald Chartran (French, 1849-1907), Portrait of Helen Clay Frick, 1905. Oil on canvas, 71 ½ x 39 in. Frick Art & Historical Center Collection.

Helen Clay Frick (1888-1984), was the third child of Henry Clay Frick and his wife, Adelaide Howard Childs.

Helen Clay Frick playing croquet.

Helen grew up at Clayton and retained a fondness for her childhood home throughout her life. She was strongly influenced by her father’s interest in art collecting, and, from an early age, she took an active interest in his collection.

The family’s move to New York City in 1905 was not an entirely happy change for Helen. She loved Pittsburgh and considered it to be her home. In fact, much of her personal philanthropy was focused on southwestern Pennsylvania. This included the establishment of the Westmoreland-Fayette Historical Society, to preserve the West Overton homestead where her father was born; the founding of the Henry Clay Frick Fine Arts Department at the University of Pittsburgh; the construction of The Frick Art Museum; and the restoration of Clayton.

Perhaps her greatest achievement, however, was the development of the Frick Art Reference Library in New York, which she began in the 1920s as a research library and photo archive dedicated to the study of western art. Helen Clay Frick oversaw the operations of the library until the year before her death, and it continues to be one of the top research institutions in the country.

Helen Clay Frick and her father Henry Clay Frick.

As a young woman Helen Clay Frick began assembling her own art collection, increasing her acquisitions in the 1960s in preparation for the opening of The Frick Art Museum in 1970.

Although Helen Clay Frick never married, she delighted in the company of her nieces and nephews and often hosted family and friends at her farm in Bedford, New York, as well as at her homes Eagle Rock at Prides Crossing, Massachusetts and Clayton.

The Frick Art & Historical Center is Helen Clay Frick’s legacy to her hometown. The Frick provides fresh interpretations of the social history of the 19th-century and choice exhibitions of fine and decorative art.