Helen Frick, was the daughter of the great art collector, Henry Clay Frick. Her father had first visited Europe in 1880 aged 31 on a tour with Andrew Mellon which included a visit to Paris, where he bought one of his first paintings, and also to Venice. Unfortunately, his travel diary is incomplete, though a photograph of the young travellers survives. But Helen was a prolific diarist and through her eyes we can follow his and her travels around Europe, occasionally accompanied on their excursions by the dealer Roland Knoedler, as well as getting a vivid physical sense through her scrapbooks and diaries of, for example, the processes of crossing the Atlantic and touring round Europe in the Gilded Age.
Helen first visited Venice in 1893, where a photograph shows her as a teenage girl reclining in a gondola. In 1912 she returned to the city for a rather rushed four-day visit which is recorded in a diary whose entries are interleaved with post-cards. After arriving in Milan on the overnight train and a whistle-stop tour of the Cathedral and Leonardo’s Last Supper, it was off by train to Venice where they arrived at the Hotel Danieli around 7pm after an “enchanting ride in gondola to hotel-how dreamy it all is!”.
The following three days were spent in a hectic round of sightseeing with visits to San Marco (where she greatly admired the Pala d’Oro) to see the Titians and Bellinis in the Frari, and the paintings in the Accademia which she found, with a few exceptions “rather disappointing” and the Doge’s Palace where she found the architecture more inspiring than the paintings and was “more thrilled over the dreadful dangerous Bridge of Sighs than anything else”. But the high spot of her visit seems to have been on her last night when they were treated to a private concert in a gondola “We drifted along the water in around the picturesque little canals, past the old Gothic palaces and churches and listened to the songs-all too beautiful”.
To hear an excerpt from her first day in Venice play the audio below: