Facing the Past of the Nicholas Lochoff Cloister

Author: Lydia Bailey

Every week, hundreds of students filter in and out of the Henry Clay Frick Fine Arts Building. Rushing to and from class, most students probably do not think about the story this building tells about its donor or what it means to the University of Pittsburgh. As an intern at the University Art Gallery in Spring 2022, I spent a significant amount of time in this space and quickly learned that its history is worth sharing with the public. 

As a UAG intern, I was encouraged to identify a signature project topic that related to my interests in the field of museum studies. Working with Isaiah Bertagnolli, graduate assistant of the University Art Gallery, I devised a plan to research the development of the Nicholas Lochoff Cloister and the provenance of the Italian renaissance copy paintings which fill its walls. This research was to be completed in conjunction with intern Anika Agarwal’s whose signature project focused on the architectural history of the building.  

At the early stages of this project, some foundational information regarding the Lochoff Cloister became clear. The building was donated to the University of Pittsburgh by Helen Clay Frick in honor of her father, a wealthy industrial tycoon in Pittsburgh in 1965. She wanted this space to embody fine art - to Frick, this meant Florentine architecture complemented by Renaissance artworks. In order to achieve this, she purchased a series of frescoes by Russian artist Nicholas Lochoff, who was known for his copies of Italian masterpieces. What is more important is that when Frick made her donation, University administrators agreed, with some hesitation, that she could have control over employment offers in what was then the Department of Fine Arts, and that the building would not be a space for contemporary art. This contract was ultimately broken, but the ongoing tension between the institution and its donor still impacts students who enter the cloister and see Italian artwork as the sole expression of the category of “fine art”.  

Completing this signature project required close attention to detail on research of primary and secondary sources, ranging from Lochoff Cloister descriptions and exhibition catalogs to searches in more recent, student-written news articles. In conclusion, I have realized that critical conversations surrounding the artwork in the cloister cease to exist within a few years of Frick Fine Arts’s establishment; these conversations are necessary to have as the physical surroundings of an academic space are formative to the knowledge produced by students. By delving into a topic which suited my interests, I was able to think critically about this space which I have spent significant time in, and synthesize a project which challenges one’s preconceived notions of what constitutes fine art. 

Lydia Bailey, Museum Studies Intern at the University of Art Gallery, Spring 2022 

Constellations Group