Frederick Carl Frieseke

Frederick Carl Frieseke (April 7, 1874 – August 24, 1939) was an American Impressionist painter whose early work was influenced by James Abbott McNeill Whistler and whose later work strongly reflected the explorations of the French Impressionists. His paintings of voluptuous full-bodied women, many painted at his country home in Giverny, France, recall the work of Pierre Auguste Renoir.

Frederick Carl, was born in Owosso in 1874. In 1893, Frieseke graduated from Owosso High School, then began his artistic training at the Art Institute of Chicago, studying with Frederick Warren Freer and John Vanderpoel. After moving to New York in 1895, he resumed his art education at the Art Students League in 1897. He worked as an illustrator, selling cartoons he had drawn to The New York Times, Puck, and Truth. He claimed that he might have curtailed his art education if he had been more successful in that endeavor.

The following year, he moved to France, where he would remain, except for short visits to the United States and elsewhere, as an expatriate for the rest of his life. He did continue his education, enrolling at the Académie Julian in Paris, studying under Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant and Jean-Paul Laurens, and receiving criticism from Auguste Joseph Delécluse. His studies also included some time at Académie Carmen under James Abbott McNeill Whistler. Frieseke visited Holland, including the Katwijk and Laren artist colonies, in the summer of 1898. During this time he sketched and painted in watercolors, and he initially planned to make that his specialty, but he was encouraged by Académie Carmen instructor Frederick William MacMonnies to work in oils.

Starting in 1899, just over a year since his arrival in Paris, Frieseke exhibited at the Salon of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. Whistler’s influence is evident in Frieseke’s early mature paintings, with close tonalities. By his post-1900 work, his palette had evolved toward that of the Impressionists, becoming light and colorful; however, he still retained the strong linear customs of art back in the United States. In the summer of 1905, he spent at least a month in the Giverny art colony. In October of that year he married Sarah Anne O’Bryan (known as Sadie), whom he had met seven years earlier. Frieseke and his wife (and later, their daughter) spent every summer from 1906 to 1919 in Giverny. He kept a Paris apartment and studio throughout his life, and the Friesekes spent the winters in Paris.

He became the leading figure of the second generation of Americans at Giverny and acquired the house next door to Monet, which had been recently vacated by Theodore Robinson. But he seems never to have become a familiar to the elderly impressionist master, nor to have patterned his work after him. He acknowledged the dominant influence of Renoir, and the generously proportioned figures in his paintings often resemble those of Renoir.

The Friesekes’ Giverny home and the garden they created there were often featured in his paintings, and his wife would frequently pose for him. He also kept another studio nearby on the Epte river. Many of his outdoor nudes were painted there. After spending some time in Giverny, his unique style quickly emerged, and he would be quite influential with most of the other members of the colony. Although well known as an Impressionist, some of his work, with its “intense, almost arbitrary colors”, demonstrates the Post-Impressionist influence of artists Paul Gauguin and Pierre Bonnard. The term “Decorative Impressionism” was coined by an art writer to refer to Frieseke’s style. It combined the decorative style of Les Nabis, expressively using color and pattern, with classic Impressionist interests in atmosphere and sunlight.

He was very interested in rendering sunlit subjects on canvas, saying, “It is sunshine, flowers in sunshine; girls in sunshine; the nude in sunshine, which I have been principally interested in. If I could only reproduce it exactly as I see it I would be satisfied.” However, his interpretation of sunshine often did not appear natural. According to a recent observer, “His light hardly seems to be plein air light at all. In fact it seems entirely artificial … a stunning concoction of blues and magentas frosted with early summer green and flecks of white.”

In 1920 Frieseke and his family moved to a farm in Le Mesnil-sur-Blangy, Normandy. His art of this period concentrated on female figures, particularly nudes. While developing a more modern style, he included historical and contemporary references. He used a darker color palette and limited his use of surface patterns. In these works, his interest in chiaroscuro may be discerned. In 1923 he left the Salon of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts and co-founded, with other artists, the Salon des Tuileries. He resumed painting in watercolors, especially while on trips to Nice in the winter and during a 1930 to 1932 visit to Switzerland. Frieseke had established a superb reputation during his career. A 1931 book refers to Frieseke as “one of the most prominent members of our self-exiled Americans.”

He died in his Normandy home on August 24, 1939, of an aneurysm.

He won many awards during his career. In 1904 he received a silver medal in St. Louis at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition and was awarded a gold medal at the Munich International Art Exposition. He was honored with the William A. Clark Prize at the Corcoran Gallery of Art’s 1908 biennial, and the Temple Gold Medal in the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts’ annual exhibition of 1913. One of his greatest honors was winning the Grand Prize at the Panama–Pacific International Exposition, which was held in San Francisco in 1915. Among his entries was Summer, now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The New York Times proclaimed in June 1915: “Mr. Frieseke, whose accomplished work is well known to New Yorkers, says the last word in the style that was modern before the Modernists came along. Whatever he does has a sense of design, color, and style. A sense of gayety, an entertaining and well considered pattern, a remarkable knowledge of the effect of outdoor light on color are found in nearly all of his most recent paintings.”

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