Comprising 232 paintings, the Frye Founding Collection was established by two of Seattle’s earliest patrons of the arts, Charles and Emma Frye. In addition, the Museum owns an extensive collection of artworks purchased or gifted to the Museum since its opening in 1952.
The collection, which celebrates primarily late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century German art, was formed in the first part of the twentieth century, when a number of influential American collectors and museum curators sought to establish close cultural ties between Germany and America.
The first director of the Museum, Walser Sly Greathouse, purchased nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century American artworks that complemented the Founding Collection. Some of the American artists represented in the collection, including Albert Bierstadt, William Merritt Chase, Frank Duveneck, Geri Melchers, and John H. Twachtman, had close artistic and intellectual ties to Europe, particularly to Germany.
The Founding Collection bears similarities to other collections of German art established around the same time, most notably those belonging to American art collector and merchant Hugo Reisinger and New York Philharmonic Orchestra conductor Josef Stránský. In addition, the Frye Collection includes many of those artists whose paintings appeared in important German art exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Albright Art Gallery in Buffalo, and the Art Institute of Chicago between 1906 and 1909.