Monday, April 15, 2013

Frieseke, Frederick Carl

oil on canvas
114.3 × 146.7 cm (45 × 57.8 in.)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY, USA

Frederick Carl Frieseke (1874 - 1939) was an American Impressionist painter who spent most of his life as an expatriate in France. An influential member of the Giverny art colony, his paintings often concentrated on various effects of dappled sunlight. He is especially known for painting female subjects, both indoors and out.

He was born in Michigan.  His father manufactured bricks.  Following his mother's death when he was six years old, he spent some time living with his aunt and uncle and working in his uncle's grocery store. After graduating from high school, he went on to study art at the Chicago Art Institute for a year. In 1895 he moved to New York to study at the Art Students' League, and in 1898 he moved to Paris where he enrolled at the Academie Julian and was influenced by James A. M. Whistler.

In 1906 he rented  the house next door to Claude Monet in Giverny. He was increasingly dissatisfied with the formal art forms of his time. In an interview in 1912, he considered himself an impressionist and said, "No artist in the impressionist school has influenced me except, perhaps, Renoir." His principal concerns were the varied effects of sunlight. As he said himself, "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." 

After the first World War, he purchased a country home in Normandy. He preferred living in France to the United States because of the freedom it offered him. He said, "I stay on here 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."

Frieseke said that "I never compose a picture before Nature, but I paint what I see that is interesting, and which appeals to me at that moment. I put down whatever I see before me. I avoid being conventional as much as possible, for most picture making is conventional. I never change the drawing of a tree, or leave out a bed of flowers. I may not see them, if they do not add to the beauty of the whole." he died in Normandy and was buried at Mesnil-sur-Blangy in France.

He had established a superb reputation and won many awards during his career. After World War I there was a slow but steady decline in Frieseke's popularity. In spite of continuing awards and the acquisition of his paintings by a number of museums, diminishing sales and negative reviews reflected a change in tastes.  Critics saw his work as outmoded and overly conservative and Frieseke as a painter of pretty women. Ironically, it is his nudes which were never popular with the American public that are considered to be his best works. His paintings have also regained some of their original popularity and frequently command high prices at auction.