Frelinghuysen Morris House & Studio welcomes art lovers
Kinney Frelinghuysen shows visitors around the home of George L.K. Morris and Suzy Frelinghuysen— artists, art critics, and leaders of the Modernist movement America.
Photos by Gregory Cherin
Paintings by Picasso or Miró hang casually on the walls, and in the hallway an early Matisse, or a Jean Arp and Sophie Taeuber-Arp. But the marble tiles in the round lobby come from a Lee quarry, and the murals on the spiral stair were painted here.
When their artworks came to this house, these European and American modernist artists were alive and barely known. Some of them traveled here themselves to see George L.K. Morris and Suzy Frelinghuysen, artists and art critics who led the Modernist movement in America.
In 1930, Morris built a studio on the grounds of his family’s estate, and when he and Frelinghuysen married, they expanded it into a Modernist house. Today their nephew, Kinney Frelinghuysen, acts as director and his wife, Linda, as communications director of the Frelinghuysen Morris House & Studio, a museum to preserve the couple’s frescoes, murals, collages, and paintings—and all the works of the Modernist artists they collected and the design and architecture they loved. Kinney rotates works from the collection into the house and studio every summer.
George and Suzy are now widely known. In the dining room, one of Suzy’s murals, a 1942 small abstract, still has the original $75 price tag on the back. Kinney remembers a similar piece selling recently for $40,000, and he has seen her vintage work go for $100,000 or more. But in their lifetimes, George and Suzy fought for Modernism when even leading modern-art museums turned away.
George met Modernism in Europe, and Suzy would come to it through him. While she sang with voice teachers in Venice or Verona, preparing for a career in the New York City Opera, he was studying art with Fernand Léger in Paris. Years later, he remembered standing on the steps at Fontainebleau with his cousin, Modernist artist and collector A.E. Gallatin, who encouraged him to take Léger’s class—and it changed his life.
George felt the U.S. had no modern-art tradition, Kinney says. Painters had studios in the city, yet no one knew each other. Back in New York, in a move to support them and his own work, he became a founding member of the American Abstract Artists.
The Whitney and MoMA were just getting started, Linda says, but no one showed abstract art until Gallatin brought it to the city—no one could see a Picasso in the U.S. until Gallatin hung one in an informal gallery at NYU. Gallatin became George’s mentor, and the two went on collecting trips together. By the mid-1930s, Kinney says, George was buying art on commission for MoMA as well as for his and Suzy’s New York Apartment and Lenox home. His choices often surprised curators.
“They wanted Cézanne,” Kinney says, “and he bought them a Mondrian for $300.”
As he and Suzy explored their own painting, they also stood up for the emerging movement. The balance eventually shifted. After the war, in the 1950s, Jackson Pollack and Mark Rothko became quintessential new American artists, and the country took a leading place in the art world. But George and Suzy led the Modernist movement from its earliest days, in their own work and in the artists they collected.
After Suzy died in 1988, the family established a nonprofit foundation, which owns the house. The museum opens for guided tours in the summer and fall.
The recession may have hit small museums across the county, Linda says, recalling conversations with many local organizations, but the Frelinghuysen Morris House has seen their numbers of visitors grow in the last few years, most notably with younger people and a substantial increase in group tours. Programming has expanded with vintage 1930s films and a series with local professional artists who paint onsite on Fridays and talk about their work and techniques.
An interactive conversation about the art also ends each tour, and Kinney offers longer “Has Your Creativity Been Hiding?” workshops on select Saturday mornings. Visitors begin simply with paper and a marker, drawing from a painting before they know who painted it. Kinney wants them to approach without an automatic recognition. He wants people to take time with a painting, to feel their way into a painting like one of Suzy’s early collages in blues and grays or a painting of George’s in sunrise colors and black lines, invoking the Stockbridge Mission and the Mohicans.
The tension and emotion in the work touches people, and they tell him they have not had this kind of experience with a painting or a museum before. “People keep coming up afterward,” he says, “and saying, ‘I feel free.’”
Thursday to Sunday hourly, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., June 23 to Sept. 5, and Thursday to Saturday, Sept. 6 to Oct. 9. Berkshire residents’ half-priced tour, 10 a.m. Thursdays.
Painting demonstrations with professional artists from the community, 11 a.m. Fridays.
“Has Your Creativity Been Hiding?” on select Saturday mornings.
92 Hawthorne St., Lenox 413-637-0166, Frelinghuysen Morris House & Studio