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Clapp, Frederick M.

    Full Name: Clapp, Frederick M.

    Other Names:

    • Frederick Mortimer Clapp

    Gender: male

    Date Born: 1879

    Date Died: 1969

    Place Born: New York, NY, USA

    Place Died: New York, NY, USA

    Home Country/ies: United States


    First director of the Frick Collection, 1936-1951; poet. Clapp hailed from a priviledged family; a relative of his mother, Mary Carroll, was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. His father was Washington F. Clapp. He attended the City College of New York 1896-1898 and then Yale 1899-1902 receiving an B. A. and M.A. He returned to the City College, teaching Greek from 1904 to 1906. He moved to California to lecture on Elizabethan drama and Russian literature for the extention services at the University of California, 1906-1908. He traveled throughout Europe, discovering an interest in art and, by reading Bernard Berenson, Italian art. He married Maud Caroline Ede (1876-1960), an artist from Florence, in 1908. He entered the Sorbonne, in 1909 to pursue his doctorate studying under Henry Lemonnier, Émile Bertaux and Émail Mâle. Clapp was awarded his Docteur ès lettres in 1914 with a dissertation on Pontormo’s drawings. In 1916 he published a book and catalogue raisonné on the paintings of the artist. Tthe same year, he began publishing poetry, issuing collections of verse through the 1950s. Clapp worked with Frank Jewett Mather, Jr., at Princeton University. He joined the Aviation Section of the U.S. Army (precursor to the air force), training to be a pilot in Canada. He war service was with the 17th and 22nd Aero Squandrons station in Dunkirk. After the war, he published articles in the Princeton journal Art Studies in the early ’20s. In 1926 Clapp joined the University of Pittsburgh to chair their program in the history of art. He developed Pittsburgh’s art library and photo-study collection traveling to Europe to secure the book and lantern slides. He became an exponent for art history education in the United States, reading a paper, “What can a Department of the Distory of Art Amount To?” in 1929. After the death of Mrs. Frick in 1931, Clapp was named adviser to the collection. Named organizing director in 1933, he oversaw the transformation of the Frick mansion from a home into the present museum. He hired the architect who design the building, John Russell Pope, adding a cloak room and lecture facilities. Clapp received an honorary doctorate at the University of Pittsburgh the same year. The museum opened late in 1935. He was named director in 1936. Clapp set about issuing a fine-press style folio edition of the collection which the war prevented from completion. When the American government mounted a touring show of German art ostensibly as war booty in 1946, he and Whitney Museum director Juliana R. Force spearheaded a campaign to return the art to Germany. Clapp kept the museum admission free, organizing public (and often non-art) lectures and concerts for which the Frick became famous. It was at a Frick lecture in 1947 that T. S. Elliot reputiated his opinion of the works of John Milton. He retired in 1951 and was succeeded by Franklin Biebel (1908-1966). He died at a New York Hosptial at age ninety. His papers are held at Yale University. Erwin Panofsky cited Clapp’s work on Pontormo one of serveral “very good art-historical books” with which European scholars such as himself were familiar before World War II.

    Selected Bibliography

    [dissertation:] Les dessins de Pontormo, catalogue raisonné, précédé d’un étude critique. University of Paris, 1914, published, Paris: Librairie ancienne H. Champion, E. Champion, 1914; Jacopo Carucci da Pontormo, his Life and Work. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1916; “A Letter to Pontormo.” Art Studies 1 (1923): 65-66; “Arhats in Art.” Art Studies 3 (1925): [93]-130; “What can a Department of the Distory of Art Amount To?” [unpublished paper read before the Educational Clinic, Pittsburgh, April 12, 1929]; The Frick Collection: Paintings: Summary Catalogue. New York: Frick Collection, 1937ff.


    Hoagland, Roland Waterbury. The Blue Book of Aviation; a Biographical History of American Aviation. Los Angeles: The Hoagland Company, 1932, pp. 92-93; “Removal of German Art to the U.S. Renews Controversy Over Ethics.” New York Times June 10, 1946, p. 22; Panofsky, Erwin. “The History of Art.” In The Cultural Migration: The European Scholar in America. Introduction by W. Rex Crawford, 82-111. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1953, p. 87, mentioned; WBD, 311 [obituary:] Horsley, Carter B. “Frederick Clapp of Frick Museum, Founding Director, 90, Dies.” New York Times December 17, 1969, p. 55.


    Contributors: Emily Crockett and Lee Sorensen


    Emily Crockett and Lee Sorensen. "Clapp, Frederick M.." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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