Inspired by Rosalba Carriera’s ‘Portrait of a Man in Pilgrim’s Costume,’ Nicolas Party Creates Site-Specific Mural + Portraits at Frick Madison




Nicolas Party and Rosalba Carriera mural and paintings on view at Frick Madison

The Frick Collection has unveiled a large pastel mural commissioned from the Swiss-born artist Nicolas Party (b. 1980) at the museum’s temporary home, Frick Madison. This site-specific work was created in response to Rosalba Carriera’s Portrait of a Man in Pilgrim’s Costume ~ one of two eighteenth-century pastels by Rosalba bequeathed to the Frick by Alexis Gregory in 2020. The installation features Rosalba’s superb portrait at the center of a three-wall mural designed by Party, as well as two new related works specially created by Party for this presentation.

On view from June 1, 2023, through the remainder of the Frick’s residency at the Breuer building (which ends March 3, 2024), this installation will inspire the Frick’s summer and early fall programming as well as a new publication.

What’s to become of the historic Breuer Building? Just announced ~ purchased by Sotheby’s, who will take ownership in September, 2023 and open its new flagship doors in 2024.

L-R, Xavier F. Salomon, the Frick’s Deputy Director and artist Nicolas Party.

The project, which also marks the 350th anniversary of Rosalba’s birth, is organized by Xavier F. Salomon, the Frick’s Deputy Director and Peter Jay Sharp, Chief Curator. Salomon comments, “It has been a particular pleasure to work with Nicolas Party. I met Nicolas in April 2021 and since then have enjoyed an ongoing and enlightening conversation on pastels. Nicolas’s installation at Frick Madison is the result of our exchanges, and I am delighted with the result.” Party adds, “When I first fell in love with pastels,, somme ten years ago, my research quickly led me to the queen of pastel, Rosalba. Her practice and love for the powdery sticks increased the popularity of the medium and were crucial to the development of the art form. I felt a powerful attraction to her pastels. Today, I like to think our approaches might not be all that different.”

Rosalba Carriera’s ‘Portrait of a Man in Pilgrim’s Costume’ from The Frick Collection

Born in Venice, Rosalba Carriera (1673-1757) was celebrated throughout Europe during her lifetime for her portraiture. She was the preeminent portraitist in Venice in the mid-eighteenth century, at the same time the Venetian Carnival reached its zenith. During this period, foreign travelers flocked to Venice for the masked revelries that became synonymous with the city, and Rosalba’s studio was a popular stop for visiting foreigners, who often posed for her in their elegant Carnival costumes. Portrait of a Man in Pilgrim’s Costume (ca. 1730) is most likely one such work. The sitter is possibly French, British, or German, but his identity remains unknown. With his black cape, staff, and jaunty tricorn hat, he is depicted as a pilgrim.

Nicolas Party (b. 1980) Portrait, 2023. Soft pastel on pastel card; 30 1/16 x 23 1/4 in (76..4 x 59 cm).

Much like stage curtains framing a play, Party’s mural includes elaborate draperies that highlight the Rosalba portrait along with two additional pastel portraits he created in response to it. These ornate draperies evoke the work of two other towering figures in European pastels ~ Jean-Étienne Liotard (1702-1789) and maurice-Quentin de La Tour (1704 – 1788) ~ and echo the function of Venetian Carnival masks, which were designed to both conceal and reveal the features of their wearers. Party’s installation engages devices of disguise and disclosure, from masks to draperies to makeup (often produced with the same chemical components used to make pastel sticks).

Nicholas Party (b. 1980) Portrait, 2023. Soft pastel on pastel card; 30 1/16 x 23 1/4 in. (76.4 x 59cm).

The large-scale murals created by Party, whose primary medium since 2013 has been pastel, are ephemeral, lasting only for the duration o a specific exhibition at a unique location. The historical nature of his practice aligns perfectly with the installation at Frick Madison, which has given the museum a unique opportunity to reimagine its permanent collection display, presented for the first time outside the domestic setting of the Gilded Age mansion at 1 East 70th Street.

Above and below, take a closer look.

This project is part of a series of initiatives in recent years that invite contemporary responses to the Frick’s holdings. Party’s installation not only will offer a fresh perspective ann an important recent acquit ion, but will further Frick Madison’s prompting of visitors to question the impact of site and setting on their perception of historic objects in the collection.

Image: Pastelist Nicolas Party at work on a site-specific mural at Frick Madison. Photo: Joseph Coscia Jr. The artist using La Maison du Pastel’s.

Funding for the installation is generously provided ty The Christian Humann Foundation and the David L. Klein, Jr. Foundation, with the support of the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia.

Nicolas Party and Rosalba Carriera at Frickk Madison

Rosalba Carriera was a celebrated pastelist who portrayed wealthy travelers who stopped in Venice while on the Grand Tour.  Highly sought after by both Venetian and international patrons, her pastels are rare in American public collections. The Frick’s Portrait of a Man in Pilgrim’s Costume is a superb example of her work, particularly interesting given the figure’s costume, which is possibly a reference to an actual pilgrimage undertaken by the man, but more likely a costume for Carnival.

Frick Madison, Nicolas Party and Rosalba Carriera installation.

Party has a special interest in the history and medium of pastel. In the summer of 2013, he saw Picasso’s pastel Tête de Femme (1921), a momentous encounter that prompted him to explore the medium, which he describes as “fast and versatile…very gentle…just dust,” with colors that are “vibrant and pure.” Pastel subsequently became his primary medium, with a focus on landscapes, still lifes, and portraits in the Western figurative tradition. On many occasions, the artist has created paintings in response to historic European art and artists, from Louis-Léopold Boilly to Arnold Böcklin to René Magritte.

Installation view of Nicolas Party: Pastel at The Flag Art Foundation, 2019. Photography by Steven Probert.

In 2019, Party organized Pastel at the FLAG Art Foundation in New York. For the exhibition, he created large pastel murals inspired by the work of various artists, both past and present. He juxtaposed his own work with that of French eighteenth-century artists including François Boucher and Jean-Honoré Fragonard.  One of these pairings featured a pastel portrait by Carriera, hung against his pastel mural inspired by Fragonard’s Progress of Love series at the Frick.

Party’s large-scale pastel murals are ephemeral, created for the duration of a specific exhibition at a unique location. The nature of his work aligns perfectly with the installation at Frick Madison, which has given the museum a unique opportunity to reimagine its presentation of works, shown for the first time outside the domestic setting of the Gilded Age mansion at 1 East 70th Street. This exhibition is part of a series of initiatives in recent years that invite contemporary responses to the Frick’s holdings. Party’s installation not only will offer a fresh perspective on an important recent acquisition, but will further Frick Madison’s invitation to visitors to question the impact of site and setting on their perception of historic objects in the collection.

Nicolas Party, Frick Madison, May 31, 2023

About Nicolas Party ~ Born in Lausanne in 1980, Party is a figurative painter who has achieved critical admiration for his familiar yet unsettling landscapes, portraits, and still lifes that simultaneously celebrate and challenge conventions of representational painting. His works are primarily created in soft pastel, an idiosyncratic choice of medium in the twenty-first century, and one that allows for exceptional degrees of intensity and fluidity in his depictions of objects both natural and manmade. Transforming these objects into abstracted, biomorphic shapes, Party suggests deeper connections and meanings. His unique visual language has coalesced in a universe of fantastical characters and motifs where perspective is heightened and skewed to uncanny effect.

In addition to paintings, Party creates public murals, pietra dura, ceramics, installation works, and sculptures, including painted busts and body parts that allude to the famous fragments of ancient Greece and Rome. His brightly colored androgynous figures vary in scale from the handheld to the monumental and are displayed on tromp l’oeil marble plinths of differing heights that upend conventional perspective. Party’s early interest in graffiti and murals—his projects in this arena have included major commissions for the Dallas Museum of Art and the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles—has led to a particular approach to the installation and presentation of his work. He routinely deploys color and makes architectural interventions in exhibition spaces in order to construct enveloping experiences for the viewer.

(Wouldn’t you just love to take a peek inside his studio? Well you can in the YouTube video via Hauser & Wirth, above)

The artist’s childhood in Switzerland imprinted upon him an early fascination with landscape and the natural world, and the influence of his native country places Party firmly within the trajectory of central European landscape painting. Points of reference in his work include celebrated nineteenth-century Swiss artists Félix Vallotton, Ferdinand Hodler, and Hans Emmenegger. One can also find within his works a twenty-first-century synthesis of the sorts of impulses and ideas that fueled the Renaissance and late nineteenth-century, early twentieth-century figurative painting, the compositional strategies of Rosalba Carriera and Rachel Ruysch, and the visions of such self-taught artists as Louis Eilshemius and Milton Avery.

Based in New York, Party studied at the Lausanne School of Art in Switzerland before receiving his MFA from Glasgow School of Art in Scotland.

Nicolas Party and Rosalba Carriera will be on view from June 1, 2023 to March 3, 2024. Frick Madison is located 945 Madison Avenue at 75th Street, NYC.

The Gregory Gift

While you’re there, don’t miss seeing The Gregory Gift (image above), recently bequeathed to the Frick by Alexis Gregory (1936-2020).

Free Community Evening This Summer:

The Frick’s next seasonal community evening, Cheng-Harrell Open Night, will feature programming revolving around Party’s mural. Held on Friday, June 23, from 5:00 to 9:00pm, the event will welcome visitors to Frick Madison to explore three floors of galleries along with the Frick Art Reference Library. A variety of talks will be presented throughout the evening, including two on the Rosalba portrait and Party’s installation. Guests are also encouraged to find inspiration in the mural while sketching throughout the museum. The event is free to all with registration. ASL interpretations and Assistive Listening Devices are also provided at all the talks.

In addition that evening, Frick Madison Cheng-Harrell Open Night will celebrate Pride Month with Pastels and Pride, also from 5:00 to 9:00pm. Attend themed talks, listen to live jazz in our outdoor café, and try your hand at figure drawing with drag artist Gloria Swansong. All night long, escape the heat with after-hours access to our galleries and reading room

*Please note ~ Children under ten are not admitted to the Collection.

New Diptych Volume ~ In August, the Frick will publish Rosalba Carriera’s Man in Pilgrim’s Costume, the thirteenth volume in its popular Diptych series. Each book in the series focuses on a single work from the collection, pairing an illuminating essay by a curator with a contribution from a contemporary cultural figure. Nicolas Party’s mural will be the centerpiece of the upcoming diptych, which will also include an essay by Xavier F. Salomon as well as text by Party.  Rosalba Carriera’s man in Pilgrim’s Costume will be available for purchase at Frick Madison and online.

While you’re there enjoy the Frick Vermeers, recently returned from Amsterdam and on view through May 3, 2024.

Frick Madison Announces Exhibition Schedule for its final year before closing on March 3, 2024.

Stay tuned for Nicolas Party at Hauser & Wirth New York at 22nd Street for his first solo exhibition, transforming the entire first floor of the gallery into vibrant world of visual enchantment. Exhibition will be on view from September 7 to October 21st, 2023.