Hard to imagine, perhaps, but one of the most beautiful aspects, to me, of the Frick Collection, is the muted murmur, the continuous crackle and creak underfoot, of the wooden floors. On a rainy day, as it was a couple of Sundays ago, that softest of sounds had but one counterpart in the soft splash and plop of rain on leaf and pond - the sound of introversion and contemplation - in Russell Page's beautiful courtyard garden, itself a reflection of the court at the centre of the museum which, in its turn, is nothing more than the atrium with its peristyle and impluvium of Ancient Rome.
The night before we'd talked at dinner, the four of us, about second homes - for me enticing but for the Celt, a not-so-captivating idea. For our friends, two men from London, a second home was nothing more than an extra expense, extra responsibility, etc., a dismissal so heartfelt and final I was glad I was old or wise enough not to argue. I understand all the arguments against such an establishment but, much in the way the Frick's courtyard garden attracted me because of its sense of enclosure and separation from the noise of the city, so does a small place - a recourse rather than ivory tower - surrounded by woodland, within the sound, if not the sight, of falling water, blind to the road but open to a courtyard that captures, each in its season, the fall of sun, moon, rain, snow and leaf.
Another drenching storm had passed when, last weekend, we drove up the steep and winding road to the great white house atop a mountain in North Carolina. A weekend house filled with elegantly dressed people invited to meet two of the the Million Dollar Decorators, and from which the mist-softened panorama of the wooded slopes of the Appalachians came as such a beautiful surprise. To stand, even for a few minutes, under a sky no longer ominous but still flickering with lightening, deaf to all around and looking at a view so rare, was the most invigorating of moments.
It is hard to say how many times over the years I have visited the Frick but it has never palled. The Fragonard Room, in which his The Progress of Love is arrayed, is the perfect room in which to while away a book-riddled hour or two on a dim, wet and fire-lit day. These paintings, at the end of the 18th century, having been rejected by Madame du Barry, came to hang in Fragonard's cousin's house in Grasse. This reminds me, as an aside, that Roderick Cameron described Charles de Noailles, who had a villa and garden in Grasse, as one of the world's great gardeners - a compliment indeed from such a talented man as Cameron.
Our two friends from London, and this is their progress of love, asked us to go with them the following Monday to the Office of the City Clerk in Manhattan and witness their wedding - which we did, in the lavender-decorated ceremony room. I'm pleased to say that neither the color scheme nor the continuing rain dampened their ardor.
Photograph (cropped) of Finnish cabin from 1609 by Paul Wistman, accompanying text by Klaus Eriksen, for The World of Interiors, January 1986.
Image of Fragonard's The Lover Crowned from Wikipedia Commons.
A conservatism the word would never know
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