|"The Burning Stable", by Adolf Schreyer
photographed in the Frye Art Museum, Seattle
February began with steady rain and dark skies. But why should this month diverge from the pattern 2018 has set? Gloomy weather and even gloomier politics. Still, the meteorological monotony has started to chafe my soul.
So, I retreated to Seattle’s Frye Art Museum, a cultural jewel box bequeathed to the city by Charles Frye and his wife Emma. A show of work by contemporary Tlingit artist Alison Marks intrigues me, but something (melancholy?) tugs me into the one gallery still dedicated to the Frye’s personal collection. The museum has dubbed this room the Frye Salon. The walls are crammed with late 19th/early 20th century paintings. Many are German, but French and American artists are sprinkled in.
|A visitor in the Frye Salon at Seattle's Frye Art Museum
notice the art student on the left, copying one of the paintings
It's probably not hip or correct to admit it, but I love this gallery; the paintings hang check by jowl, portraits sharing intimate wall space with landscapes, liberally accented with depictions of livestock. Charles Frye made his fortune in the meatpacking industry. Did he collect these animal paintings to remind him of the source of his livelihood?
When my son was young, he adored a painting of terrified horses fleeing a burning stable. Well, he was young and enamored of firefighters. Still, the work by German artist Adolf Schreyer is definitely one of the more dramatic in the Frye's collection.
|A slightly crooked look at Charles and Emma Frye on the wall of the museum they left to Seattle
painted by Henry Raschen in 1913
Sitting in a gray velvet chair, I notice not one but two sets of portraits of Charles and Emma hanging on the walls, plus another small oil painting of Emma’s head. The Fryes look serene, almost majestic, as if they're watching us enjoy their collection. More than 100 paintings hang in this Salon, apparently just the way they hung on the walls of the Frye's own home.
Out of all the paintings, I’m invariably drawn to a John Singer Sargent-esque portrait of a beautiful dark-haired woman. Her chin is slightly lifted, but her eyes beckon me. The painting, by someone named Leopold Schmutzler, is called “Here I Am.” Indeed.
Sitting in this room, I’m transported out of the present, away from the tumult and chaos of news reports about secret memos, and nuclear weapons upgrades; porn stars and the man who would be president.
I’m sure many of the artists whose works hang on the Frye Museum walls used their skills to comment on similar tumultuous times a century ago, but these paintings don’t communicate those messages to me. Instead, I conjure my own stories as I idle away an hour. I’m warm and dry, oblivious to politics and the rain, rain, relentless rain of February in Seattle.