Frederick Carl Frieseke (1874-1939)

Frederick Carl Frieseke (1874-1939)

Born in Owosso, Michigan, in 1874, Frederick Carl Frieseke’s formal art education began around 1893 at the Art Institute of Chicago and continued in New York at the Art Students League. He then followed in the footsteps of many young American painters and sailed abroad to Paris in 1897 where he enrolled at the Académie Julian under Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant and Jean-Paul Laurens, and later studied briefly under James Abbott McNeill Whistler at the master’s atelier. 

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Frieseke was first interested in working in watercolor and his success with the medium resulted in the inclusion of three pieces at the Salon of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts in 1899. He soon took up oils as the suggestion of Whistler, whose influence can be seen in the landscapes and figure subjects from this period, rendered with a tonalist palette. 

Frieseke first visited Giverny in the summer of 1900 and by 1906 had taken up residence at a cottage next to Claude Monet once occupied by Theodore Robinson. Here he found the perfect enclave to launch the next phase of his career, working in a manner that combined his interest in rendering the effects of light and atmosphere with his love for painting garden scenes and figures. While he kept his Paris studio, the countryside provided ample material for the vibrant, sun-filled compositions featuring figures in repose or relaxation that he created for the next fifteen years, often using his wife Sarah as model. In inclement weather, these arrangements moved indoors but retained the artist’s warm, glowing palette and eye for decorative patterns seen in his landscapes. He exhibited widely on both sides of the Atlantic, earning gold medals at both the St. Louis Universal Exposition and the Munich Exposition in 1904, the Temple Prize at the Pennsylvania Academy in 1913 and the Grand Prize at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in 1915, among numerous accolades, and was praised for his “remarkable knowledge of the effect of outdoor light on color,”[1] Nudes were also an important part of Frieseke’s portfolio and found admiration among critics, however he discovered that they sold more readily in Europe rather than his home country due to Americans’ conservatism: “I stay on [in France] because I am more free and there are not the Puritanical restrictions which prevail in America…I can paint a nude in my garden or down by the fish pond and not be run out of town…”[2] 

Frieseke and his family, which now included a daughter Frances, endured the stress of World War I but eventually left Giverny in 1920 for Le Mesnil sur Blangy in Normandy. He retained his connection to Paris and continued to paint nudes and the occasional landscape, but Frances became his primary muse during this transition, frequently posing for portraits rendered with a more subtle, restrained palette in comparison with his earlier work. Following the stock market crash of 1929, Frieseke closed his Paris studio and made Normandy his permanent home. Sadly he passed away there in August of 1939 only weeks away from a planned trip to the States to visit his recently married daughter and months after a major retrospective of his work co-organized by Macbeth Gallery in New York, his primary dealer for decades. While he remained abroad his entire painting career, Frieseke was proud of his American roots and participated in the annual exhibitions of the Pennsylvania Academy and the Corcoran Gallery, and became a National Academician in 1914. Today his paintings can be found in several international museums as well as in most major collections across the United States, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC, among many others.  

References: Falk, Who Was Who in American Art, 1999; Kilmer, Nicholas, Virginia M. Mecklenburg, David Sellin, H. Barbara Weinberg, and Linda McWhorter (Ed.). Frederick Carl Frieseke: The Evolution of an American Impressionist (Telfair Museum of Art and Princeton University Press, 2001); Frederick Frieseke 1874-1939, Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Inc., exh. cat., 1966; “Frieseke Tells Some of the Secrets of His Art,” by Clara T. MacChesney, The New York Times, June 7, 1914.

[1] “The Prizes at the Panama Exposition,” The New York Times, June 27, 1915

[2] “Frieseke Tells Some of the Secrets of His Art,” by Clara T. MacChesney, The New York Times, June 7, 1914

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