The Magnolia Palace by Fiona Davis is a wonderful historical fiction novel for readers who love the worlds of collectible art and the early 1900’s. The story is told through a dual timeline that worked really well. First is the 1920’s period of gilded mansions, the art world and Henry Clay Frick’s family, especially his daughter, Helen. The second timeline takes place in 1966 at the Frick Museum, New York City.
The characters really came alive for me – Helen Clay Frick was depicted as quite eccentric and a tad bit strange and her father is depicted as quite overbearing. After WWI, Lillian Carter is an infamous model who needs a job and ends up working for Helen as her secretary. The Frick family home is filled with artworks and also with good and bad things happening within the family. Lilly finds her place in the home and things are going well until suddenly events spiral out of control – she is accused of deception, murder and robbery! In 1966, Veronica has dreams of becoming a famous model and actress, but her first shoot goes badly and then she is locked in the building during a snowstorm and power outage. She meets Joshua, an intern at the museum and they end up on an unlikely scavenger hunt that begins to explain some of the Frick family tragedies. The two timelines intersected really well in the end and I really enjoyed this novel. It made me want to find out more about the real-life characters that inspired Fiona Davis to write The Magnolia Palace!
Below are several short videos that show photos of the people, sculptures and paintings mentioned in the novel . . .
Helen Clay Frick (Helen was interested in art history and philanthropy and lived to age 96)
Audrey Munson (Lilly’s fictional character is based on actual model, Audrey Munson)
The Frick Collection (The collection is worth approximately $2.3 billion today.)