There is a long history behind the Frye Art Museum, which came together in their 19th Century North European Romantic collection. By the end of the nineteenth century, Charles Frye (1958-1940) had set up a flourishing meatpacking plant in Seattle. The descendant of a family of German immigrants to Iowa (1846), Charles Frye married Emma Lamp (1860-1934), with whom he started collecting art after their first visit to Chicago’s World Colombian Exhibition in 1893.
The couple bought some American art; however, their key focus was Romantic German artists. A gallery was added to their house in First Hill to house their collection and the philanthropic couple proved to be very active organising exhibitions, concerts, and charitable events.
By 1930, they had assembled around 230 works of art, with artists such as Eugène Boudin, William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Félix Ziem, Eugène Isabey, Franz von Lenbach, Tim Lowly, Fritz von Uhde (Picture Book), Hermann Corrodi (Venice), Ludwig von Zumbusch, Leopold Schmutzler and Franz von Stuck (Judgment of Paris), which the childless couple intended to leave to the Seattle Art Museum.
When the city refused this gift, Walter Sly Greathouse, the executor of Frye’s will, commissioned the architect, Paul Thiry, to design a museum, a block away from Frye’s home, to house the collection. The Frye Museum opened on February 8, 1952, and was led until 1993 by Greathouse and later his wife Ida Kay, following the strictures of Fry’s will regarding exhibitions and new acquisitions, and never allowing abstract art to enter its premises.
As new directors brought their influence, the museum slowly evolved into the 21st century. In 1997, an extension designed by Rick Sundberg of Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen Architects was added and, for the first time work by female artists was shown. More recently, the Museum has held exhibitions of contemporary artists, such as Franz von Stuck (2013) and Vilhelm Hammershøi (2016) alongside Andy Warhol (2015), Mark Tobey and Teng Boiye or Isamu Noguchi and Qi Baishi, striving to find a successful balance with the original collection. Throughout, the Museum has stayed true to one important rule that Frye had stipulated: that access to the museum should always be free.