Bertha Wegmann – the Danish Queen of Portraiture.

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Bertha Wegmann .  Photographed by Georg Emil Hansen (1891)

Bertha Wegmann was one of the first professional female Danish painters. Her work was very popular during her lifetime and she was much sought after as a portrait artist.   Without doubt, she is one of the most noteworthy painters of the Danish Realism movement.   Some art historians would have us believe that after the famous Danish portrait painter Peder Severin Krøyer, who died in 1909, Wegmann became the acknowledged leader of portrait painters in Denmark, among both genders.  She went on to complete numerous portraits of the celebrities of her day along with many paintings of her family and friends.  Although renowned for her portraiture she also painted landscapes, still life, and genre scenes.

Marie Triepcke

Portrait of Marie Triepcke. by Bertha Wegmann (1885)

In 1885 Bertha completed a portrait of Kroyer’s wife,  Marie Triepcke Krøyer Alfvén, more commonly known as Marie Krøyer, also, like her husband, a talented  Danish painter. The portrait was entitled Portrait of Marie Triepcke. 

Portrait of an Elderly Gentleman by Bertha Wegmann

Another Skagen painter, Vigo Johansen, was thought to be the model for Wegmann’s portrait, Portrait of an Elderly Gentleman.

Portrait of a Girl by Bertha Wegmann (1880)

Bertha Wegmann, who was of German ancestry, was born in the small village of Soglio, in south-east Switzerland on December 16th, 1846 to Eberhard Ludwig and Cathrine Wegmann.   At the age of five the family moved to Denmark but sadly, five years after that move her mother died. As a child, Bertha showed an interest in drawing and her father, who was a merchant, and who was also an accomplished amateur painter, encouraged his daughter to paint.  Because of schoolwork and having to help her father run the family home she had no time to enrol on an additional art course.  In fact, it was not until she was nineteen years of age that she began her formal art studies.

Young Woman with a Child in the Garden by Bertha Wegmann

In 1867, aged twenty-one, funded by her father, she travelled to Munich and enrolled at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts, with the intention of becoming a painter of historical subjects and whilst in Munich her tutors included Wilhelm Lindenschmit the Younger, the German history painter and the Austrian genre painter Eduard Kurzbauer.   Although her artistic technique flourished rapidly, she, like many aspiring young artists, found herself discontented with the old-fashioned academic ambiance of the Munich academic establishments.  It was a time of change in the art world with the arrival of the French Impressionists.  In Italy, a group of Italian painters active in Tuscany in the second half of the nineteenth century had offered an alternative to the antiquated conventions taught by the Italian art academies and urged artists to carry out much of their painting en plein air so as to capture natural light, shade, and colour.

OIP

The Danish Artist Bertha Wegmann Painting a Portrait  by Jeanna Bauck

It was whilst studying in Munich that Bertha Wegmann met fellow aspiring artist Jeanna Bauck.  She was the daughter of a German-born composer and music critic Carl Wilhelm Bauck and a Swedish mother, Dorothea Fredrique.  She was six years older than Wegmann.  She had moved to Germany to study painting, first in Dresden and then in Munich.  They immediately became great friends and for many years would share their home and studios in Munich and Paris.  It was in their Munich studio, around 1879, that Jeanna completed a portrait of Bertha Wegmann entitled Den danska konstnären Bertha Wegmann målande ett porträtt, (The Danish Artist Bertha Wegmann Painting a Portrait).  The setting was their studio and, at the side of which, was a window that allowed natural light to stream through and illuminate the room.

Malarinnan Jeanna Bauck (Jeanna Bauck, The Artist), by Bertha Wegmann 1881

Målarinnan Jeanna Bauck by Bertha Wegmann (1881)

Bertha and Jeanna went together on painting trips including many journeys to Italy.  In late 1880, Bertha and Jeanna moved to Paris and again shared a studio. Bertha Wegmann painted almost twenty portraits of her friend, the best known of which is her well-known portrait entitled, Målarinnan Jeanna Bauck which she completed in their Paris studio. In the painting we see a smiling Jeanna gazing out at us.  She is sitting slightly forward, book in hand, with a smile on her face.  Her friend has portrayed her with great honesty and charisma. In the portrait, Bertha has managed to effectively juxtapose the impression of an uninhibited, independent type of woman with the stylishness of the middle-class woman. Besides Jeanna we see the tools of her career such as brushes, a palette and painting rags. The book held in her hand symbolises her character as an intelligent woman. If we look closely through the window in the background we can just make out the rooftops of Paris..  Jeanna Bauck returned to Munich in 1882, where she founded a painting school for female artists. Later, around the turn of the century she also taught at the Verein der Berliner Künstlerinnen painting school, an influential organisation for female artists, which continuously offered drawing and painting courses in Berlin. 

Bertha Wegmann - Madam Anna Seekamp, the Artist’s Sister
Madam Anna Seekamp, the Artist’s Sister. by Bertha Wegmann (1883)

Bertha Wegmann exhibited at several Salons and received an “honourable mention” in her first Salon in 1880 and a gold medal in 1881.  She left Paris in 1882 and returned to Copenhagen, where she was already renowned for the works she had sent home and had exhibited at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen.  In 1883 her submission for the annual exhibition at the Charlottenborg Palace was a portrait her sister, Anna, entitled Madam Anna Seekamp, the Artist’s Sister.  For this painting the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts awarded her the Thorvaldsen Medal.  The award was one of the highest honours conferred in the Danish art world and Bertha was only the second woman to win this accolade.  The enchanting painting depicts her sister with her knitting in hand.  Her facial expression is one of sweetness, even playfulness.   In this work, Bertha has shown her mastery at conveying both likeness and complex human expressions.

Wikioo.org - The Encyclopedia of Fine Arts - Painting, Artwork by Bertha Wegmann - Maternity
Maternity by Bertha Wegmann

After Bertha received the Thorvaldsen’s Medaille at Charlottenborg in 1883, she became the first woman to sit in the Academy’s Plenary Session. At the same time, she took part in many large official exhibitions throughout Scandinavia and Europe and at the Exposition Universelle of 1889 in Paris and 1900 and she also represented Denmark at several world’s fairs, including the famous World Columbian in Chicago in 1893 also known as the Chicago World’s Fair.   In 1895 her work appeared at the landmark Kvindernes Udstilling fra Fortid og Nutid (the Women’s Exhibition from the Past and Present) held in Copenhagen.  It was an art and culture exhibition for women from the Nordic countries.

Wikioo.org - The Encyclopedia of Fine Arts - Painting, Artwork by Bertha Wegmann - Woman with a Book
Woman with a Book by Bertha Wegmann

In 1897 Bertha Wegmann became the first woman to hold a chair at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. From that year through to 1907, she was a member of the board for the “Tegne- og Kunstindustriskolen for Kvinder” (Drawing and Art Industrial School for Women). In 1892 she became one of the first women to receive the royal Ingenio et Arti medal.  The award is given to artists (musicians, painters, actors and scientists) who have done extremely noteworthy work. It is a Danish medal awarded to prominent Danish and foreign scientists and artists.

Portrait of a seated Woman by Bertha Wegmann

On February 22nd 1926, after a very long life of constant artistic success, Bertha Wegmann died suddenly, aged 78, while working in her studio.  She will be remembered as someone who achieved an unparalleled career at a time when it was especially difficult for a woman to forge any kind of independent life.  She was both determined and hard-working, but she also had a calm and caring nature. She was a multifaceted person who forged trails, broke stereotypes and cracked so many of the glass ceilings of her time.  She must also be remembered as a popular and loyal friend to many, a loving sister and a zealous champion of other artists, especially women artists.

Frederick Frieseke. Part 3. The latter years.

Portrait of Frederick Carl Frieseke by Lawton Palmer (1912-13)

Frederick Frieseke and Sadie O’Bryan became great friends with an American couple, Richard and Billee Miller who were also staying in Giverny.  Richard Miller had arrived in France a short time after Frederick Frieseke. Miller was a St Louis-born artist who had been honoured by receiving the first scholarship to study in Paris, awarded by the St. Louis School of Fine Arts Student Association.  He too relocated to Giverny for periods and leased a house adjacent to Monet’s property.  Mary Colman Wheeler was the founder and first head of the Wheeler School in Providence, Rhode Island and in 1887, she started a practice of taking groups of students to France during the summer to learn the French language and study painting and art history and also rented a house close to Monet’s residence.  In 1906 Richard Miller was giving summer art instruction in Giverny to the female students of Wheeler’s group.  In the mornings Miller and his students worked indoors with a model, and in the afternoon they sketched outdoors. In 1907 Roger Miller married one of Miss Wheeler’s students, Henriette Adams, known as Billee.

Nude Seated at her Dressing Table by Frederick Frieseke (1909)

Richard Miller was well connected in America and had attained European success very early in his career.  He was offered a chance to fill a whole room with his paintings at the Eighth International Venice Biennial during April and in May 1909, being a close friend and admirer of Frieseke’s work he offered to give up some of that space for Frederick’s paintings.  Frieseke exhibited some of his plein air works as well as a studio work entitled Nude Seated which he had completed that year. A work very similar to this and painted the same year was Nude Seated at her Dressing Table which is now part of the Smithsonian Collection.

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The Garden Parasol by Frederick Frieseke

Frederick Frieseke along with other artists, often referred to as Giverny Luminists, put on a joint exhibition of their work at the Henry Fitch Taylor’s Madison Art Gallery in December 1910. Fitch Taylor, an American artist, who had spent time in Giverny with the other artists, on returning to the United States, rented a studio in New York City and began to exhibit his Impressionist landscapes. In 1909, Taylor was appointed to direct Madison Art Gallery by Clara Davidge, an avid supporter of the arts and Taylor’s future wife.

This exhibition of Frieseke’s work was a turning point for him as far as the American market was concerned as William Macbeth, the most successful and influential of the New York dealers in contemporary painting at the time, might well have seen Frieseke’s work at the Madison Art Gallery exhibition. He had already seen some of Frederick’s Giverny paintings whilst in Paris in the early winter of 1908, at the Société International.  By September 1911 Macbeth and Frieseke made plans for Frederick to hold a one-man exhibition at the Macbeth Art Gallery on New York’s Fifth Avenue.  It opened on January 17th, 1912. 

Frederick Carl Frieseke (American, 1874-1939) Two Ladies in a Garden 32 x 32in
Two Ladies in a Garden by Frederick Frieseke

Frederick Frieseke continued to depict females in a state of undress in various settings and this could be one of his reasons for remaining in France and not returning to live in America.  Once when asked if he considered himself an ex-patriot, he said:

“…I am not an expatriate. I often return to the States, and I look forward to finally locating there. 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 own garden or down by the fish pond and not be run out of town…”

The following month Frederick and Sadie returned to France and apart from a brief visit to America at the end of 1928 Frederick would never again step foot on his homeland.

Cherry Blossoms by Frederick Frieseke (c.1913)

One such painting was his work entitled Cherry Blossoms which he completed around 1913.  The setting for the painting is Frieseke’s lush garden in Giverny.  The colours used in this painting bedazzle the viewer.  Frieseke has blended deep shades with light pastels of greens, blues and yellows, which are set off by traces of white and red.  A female figure, dappled in sunlight, looks relaxed as she enjoys the outdoor space. It is an explosive display of both colour and light, a grand depiction of a day of full sun but with conflicting shadows.  In Dr. William H Gerdt’s 1993 book, Monet’s Giverny: An Impressionist Colony, he wrote of Frieseke’s Giverny works:

“…it was Frieseke who introduced into the repertory of Giverny painting the concern for rich, decorative patterns, related to the art of Édouard Vuillard, Pierre Bonnard, and the other Nabi painters. There are patterns of furniture, patterns of parasols, patterns of fabric and wall coverings, patterns of light and shade, and patterns of flowers, all played off one another in bright sunshine…”

The dappling effect of sunlight in this work can often be found in other paintings by Frieseke around this time.

Reflections (Marcelle) by Frederick Frieseke (c.1909)

One of Frieseke’s favourite models was a red-headed French lady simply known as Marcelle.  She had posed for his well-known work entitled Reflections (Marcelle) which he completed around 1909.  This painting is typical of Frieseke’s many works depicting nudes relaxing in elegant boudoirs, which were often adorned with sumptuous fabrics and rugs. Marcelle stares tranquilly into the mirror at her reflection. She touches the string of her blue necklace.  We are positioned in close proximity to her beautifully rendered figure, which combines what is termed, the “serpentine curve”.  A curve of the body which has been looked upon by centuries of artists as a trademark of beauty.

On the Dunes by Frederick Frieseke (1913)

Having undergone a dreadful summer of bad weather in Paris, Frederick, after completing a number of paintings which he was pleased with, crated them up and sent them to the Macbeth Gallery in New York. He then decided to take his wife, Sadie, away from Paris and travel to the island of Corsica where he planned to stay over the winter months.  Once they arrived, they found a house with a garden which they liked, and Frederick set up his studio.  He then contacted his favourite Parisian model, Marcelle, and had her come to Corsica.  She would feature in six large paintings he completed which were exhibited at the Salon of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts.  The weather on Corsica was a great improvement to the previous Giverny summer and even though it was winter, Frederick was able to get Marcelle to pose naked on the beach.  His painting On the Dunes was painted en plein air with Sadie keeping a look-out to warn her husband of approaching tourists !

The Hammock by Frederick Frieseke (c.1915)

In 1915 Frieseke completed another Imressionist-style painting entitled The Hammock.  He was now painting using softer colours and strived to emphasize the natural light.  The predominant colour is periwinkle blue which gives a feeling of coolness afforded by the shade from the nearby trees.  To show how the sunlight as filtered through the leaves of the trees Frieseke has painted vivid white spots.  Frederick had always been fascinated by sunlight, writing that he preferred to paint sunshine, flowers in sunshine; girls in sunshine; the nude in sunshine.

Before Her Appearance by Frederick Frieseke (1913)

The sale of Frederick’s paintings in America had being going well and his arrangement with Wannamaker to purchase a regular number of his works was still in force.  One of his biggest sales was for his painting, Before Her Appearance, which he completed whilst in Corsica during the winter of 1912.  It was later shown at the 1913 Salon before being bought by the wealthy socialite, Mrs Gertrude Whitney Vanderbilt, for $2500.   In the painting we see the young lady, modelled by Marcelle, applying the last bit of ardent rouge to her lips before going on stage.  The female dancer is seated on a stool in her dressing room, looking at herself in the mirror. It is a very intimate scene with a very tender, almost monochromatic palette of pink, pale blue, marble white, and an occasional patch of yellow.

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Frances (The artist’s daughter) by Frederick Frieseke (1924)

By the end of 1913, Frederick Frieseke and his wife Sadie found themselves in a financially sound position and bought themselves an apartment on the rue du Cherche Midi in Montparnasse.  The other good news the couple received at the end of 1913 was that Sadie, after a number of miscarriages, was once again pregnant.   Sadie gave birth to their only child, Frances, in Paris on August 2nd 1914, just about the time the French military forces were mobilizing for war with Germany.  By the end of 1914 most American painters had returned home but the Friesekes decided to remain in Paris.  In a letter to his American art dealer, William Macbeth on September 11th 1914, he wrote:

“…You see we are still staying by the flag. Things were sufficiently exciting with aeroplanes dropping bombs. We are provisioned for a six months’ siege. I couldn’t stand leaving Paris after the years I’ve lived here. Seemed like running away…”

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Peace by Frederick Frieseke (1917)

The war progressed and the Friesekes continued with their normal routines living and working in Paris and Giverny, and between October 1917 and the Spring of 1918 they spent time in the south of the country.  One of Frederick’s paintings completed during 1917 was entitled Peace which he sent to Macbeth in New York.  It is a depiction of a mother sitting beside her child’s cradle as she sews.  The model for this painting was Louise, who came from Giverny who often posed for Frieseke around this time.  The cradle in the depiction was that of Frieseke’s daughter, Frances, who had long since outgrown it.

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The Mother (Sadie and their one-year-old baby Frances) By Frederick Frieseke (1915)

One of Frederick Frieseke’s greatest honours was winning the Grand Prize at the Panama–Pacific International Exposition, which was held in San Francisco in 1915.   Among his entries was his painting entitled Summer, which is now part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art collection.   Of the painting, the New York Times of June 1915 declared:

“…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…”

Summer by Frederick Frieseke (1914)

After the first World War, Frieseke purchased a country home, the farmhouse, La Beauvairie, in the Normandy village of Le Mesnil-sur-Blangy, where Frederick could sate his desire to fish.  

La Beauvierie

Also, after the Great War had ended, there was a slow but steady waning in Frieseke’s popularity and this was despite him winning many awards and the purchasing of his works by a number of museums.  However lessening sales and discouraging reviews signaled a change in tastes in art buyers.  Art critics saw his work as outmoded and overly conservative and Frieseke as a painter of pretty women.  It was also during this time that his style was becoming less  French-Impressionist and moving more towards realism.

The Library by Frederick Frieseke (1934)

In the latter weeks of 1928, Frederick and his family returned to America for a short time.  It was to be their last visit to their homeland.  When they returned to France, Frederick’s fifteen-year-old daughter Frances became seriously ill and was diagnosed as having a pre-tubercular condition.  It was decided that due to her health conditions the family should move to the cleaner air of Switzerland where they spent the next two years.  By 1932, Frances had recovered and the family returned to Normandy.  However by 1934 the family finances had become dire and Frederick was forced to sell his Paris studio. However he did complete two works which featured Frances. One was entitled The Library whilst the other was Blue Girl Reading.

Blue Girl Reading by Frederick Frieseke (1934)

By 1935 people were sensing that the political turmoil in Germany would lead to another large-scale war.   Also in Europe the effects of the Great Depression were still being felt and the sale of his paintings in America had dipped alarmingly.  On the family front, Frederick and Sadie’s daughter Frances, now twenty-one and fully recovered from her illness, had become engaged to Kenton Kilmer, a young American poet and editor with whom she had begun a correspondence in the winter of 1933—34. Add all this together and Frederick and Sadie began to contemplate returning to America.

Considering their daughter’s impending marriage and other factors, the Friesekes contemplated the possibility of moving to the United States.   The marriage ceremony of Frances Frieseke and Kenton Kilmer was held in Le Mesnil sur Blangy on June 2nd, 1937 and it proved a great village celebration.  A few days later the newly-weds travelled to America to live. At the end of 1937 Frances told her parents that she was pregnant.  With the announcement of Frances’s pregnancy at the end of the year, the issue of the Friesekes’ possible return took on additional impetus. But they had to consider what would happen to Frederick’s career if they went ahead with the re-location, since painting is a reaction to where you live. Frances gave birth to a baby boy, Hugh, in late 1938, in Arlington Virginnia. He was the first of their five children and like his grandparents Hugh became an accomplished painter, and also a sculptor, and poet. He taught English, philosophy, and theology at Salve Regina University in Newport, R.I.  This new addition to the family put further pressure on Frances’ parents to at least go to America for a visit.

Sadie and Frederick at La Beauvairie (1939)

The Friesekes purchased tickets for a visit to the United States to see their daughter, Frances, Kenton, and  their new baby. But it was not to be. On the afternoon of August 24, 1939, shortly after the German invasion of Poland, Frederick Frieseke died suddenly at his home in Normandy. The cause was an aneurysm. Sadie cabled Frances:

…Darling our Papa could not stand the overpowering emotions of the last few days with no suffering he left us last night … be brave and help me to bear my sorrow …”


Most of the information for these three blogs on Frederick Frieseke came from the Telfair Museum of Art, Savannah’s catalogue which accompanied the exhibition, Frederick Carl Frieseke  The Evolution of an American Impressionist

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Frederick Frieseke. Part 2.

Frederick Frieseke

In the Spring of 1902, Frederick Frieseke was back in America after a five-year stint in France.  His reason for returning to his country was two-fold.  He wanted to take care of his American side of his career and probably more importantly he had come to be with his stepmother who was seriously ill.  Once on American soil he wanted to have some of his artwork exhibited at two prestigious exhibitions – the Art Institute of Chicago and then the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.  Having exhibited in Paris at the Societe Nationale des Beaux-Arts and the Salon stood him in good stead.  Frederick held a series of meetings with William R. French, director of the Art Institute of Chicago, which resulted in a special exhibition of eight of his paintings, which were hung together in Chicago’s annual exhibition.

Gertrude, Girl with a Book by Frederick Frieseke (1902)

During the next seven months Frederick spent time in Owosso, transacted business in New York and Chicago, and was able to maintain his flow of drawings for Wanamaker, as well as visiting Sadie in New York. Frederick continued to paint whilst in Owosso and he employed a local young woman, Gertrude Hallowell to model for him. One such work was his painting, Gertrude, Girl with a Book, which he completed in 1902, featured Hallowell.

Woman Reading beside a Lamp by Frederick Frieseke (1902)

Another portrait featuring Hallowell was his painting entitled Femme lisant a cote d’line Inmpe (Woman Reading beside a Lamp) which he also completed that year.

The Green Sash (Medora Clark) by Frederick Frieseke (1904)

Frederick returned to Paris in November 1902 and moved into his new studio and apartment at 6, rue Victor Considerant, which was situated on the opposite side of the Place Denfert Rochereau. The rooms he rented were on the first floor above the apartment of the newly married Alson and Medora Clark, with whom he was to build up a great relationship with for the next few years.  The couple were pleased to provide Frederick with a kind of domestic permanency and friendship. The three often shared meals and spent evenings together. Medora soon became Frederick’s model and posed for his 1904 painting entitled The Green Sash.

Sleep by Frederick Frieseke (1903)

Fredeick Frieseke also engaged the services of a Parisian model, Jeanne Blazy, someone who had worked with the leading artists at the time.  For Frederick she was not just his model, she was also a great help to him taking over some of his domestic chores.  In a letter to Sadie Byers dated March 27th 1904, he wrote:

“…I’ve had a nice model. She’s as useful as anything in other things besides posing. Brings my things for luncheon and cooks them before she leaves, hunts up anything I wish and is always cheerful. Always late but works on as long as I wish. She has posed for Whistler and lots of the big men. Posed for MacMonnies’ statue in the Luxembourg…”

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Bacchante with Infant Faun by Frederick McMonnies

The bronze statue he wrote about was Bacchante with Infant Faun by the American sculptor William Frederick McMonnies’ 1894 work and it was Blazy’s talent of standing on one foot for a long time while balancing an infant on her arm, as she apparently did for MacMonnies’s Bacchante with Infant Faun.  It was exhibited at the 1893 Salon of the Societe Nationale des Beaux-Arts and later purchased for the Luxembourg Museum.  Frederick used Jeanne Blazy for his 1903 painting entitled Sleep.

Sadie O’Bryan and her family returned to Paris in October 1903 and took a small apartment at 206, boulevard Raspail.  Just around the corner was the Dome, the cafe-restaurant where the American artists were often to be found and Frederick lived a short ten- minute walk away.  Sadie’s father, Judge O’Bryan died suddenly on March 1st, 1904, following an operation for appendicitis. This meant that the family had to make a hasty return to America.  Frederick had been with the family around the time of Sadie’s father’s death and decided to return to America with them.  The family and Frederick left France on March 5th 1904 on the SS. Saint Paul and arrived in New York on March 13th and then travelled to Pittsburgh.

Frederick and Sadie were now apart once again.  She in Pittsburgh with her family and he in New Jersey.  They kept on with their correspondence and in one poignant letter he tried to console her.  He wrote:

“…Yesterday morning I went to see Foote, and he was surprised enough to see me. Got me onto the floor and jumped on my—what one should keep covered—and we had a nice day together. It was horribly hard for me to leave you the other night. And when I came back for my umbrella and found you crying —dear me—I most disgraced us all by putting my arms around you. Dearie, the first days of your getting home are going to be hard ones for you all…”

Le Thé au Jardin by Frederick Frieseke (1904)

Frederick Frieseke had associated with a group of Americans artists and their partners, including the Clarks, who frequented the residence of Grace Lee Hess, at her house in Moret-sur-Loing, some fifty kilometres southeast of Paris, beyond Barbizon and Fontainebleau.  It was here that Frederick and his friends celebrated the Fourth of July, and it was also here that Frederick executed his first large figure painting done plein air, Le Thé au Jardin (Tea in the Garden), featuring Grace Lee Hess and friends. This is a classic work in the Impressionist manner and a magnificent example of Frederick Carl Frieseke’s early style. His paintings completed between 1904 and 1919 epitomise his ambitious and important ventures into the world of Impressionism.  It was the first true en plein air work that Frieseke painted and Le Thé au Jardin marks the most noteworthy turning point in the artist’s career.

Frieseke had not only had Grace Lee Hess model for his large painting, Le Thé au Jardin but had also completed a portrait of her.  Their relationship blossomed and may have given Hess thoughts of romance but Frederick, and even though he liked to be spoiled by Hess, was wary of this turn of events.  It all came to a bitter end when Frederick announced his engagement to Sadie and in a letter to his betrothed, he talked about his rift with Grace Lee Hess:

“…It’s all over between Miss Hess and myself. She refuses to see me and insists that I’ve not acted honorably etc., which is very much too bad. And I’m sorry to lose her friendship but, well, I love Sadie very much and she loves me and while she may not be so keen at discovering my faults and correcting them—yet I think for that reason we will get along beautifully . . . and not quarrel as was the habit of Miss H and myself. At least I corrected the offenses and she did the quarrelling…”

Rest (Femme au Sofa) by Frederick Frieseke (1906)

Frederick Frieseke and Sadie O’Bryan were finally married on June 27th 1905.  In 1906 Frieseke completed a formal wedding portrait of his wife entitled Rest (Femme au sofa).  This work, which appeared at the Salon that year, marked a new direction of Frieseke’s work. It was the start of what was to be many of his domestic depictions that would occupy him for the rest of his life – the embellishment of his intimate relationship he had with his wife and family.

Hotel Baudy (now a restaurant)

Beginning in 1906 they began to escape the cold smoky atmosphere of Paris and spend the warmer months in Giverny, which at the time was a small rural village fifty miles west of Paris on the right bank of the Seine as it runs towards the sea.  At the time it was a well-established art colony which was popular with American artists who had crossed the Atlantic to further their artistic experience.  It was not just a community that solely painted.  It was a group of like-minded people who enjoyed socialising.  The men would take time off to fish. There was also numerous evenings where they would listen to or play music.  Days were often spent playing tennis at the courts of the nearby Hotel Baudy.  Models were brought in from Paris and posed nude in the protected gardens. Often the artists would pose for each other.  The Friesekes would often take tea with the Monets, who were neighbours and Monet and Sadie, who both loved gardening would spend hours deliberating on the proposed expansion of Monet’s garden, and the new bridge from which his water lily garden could be enjoyed.

…………………………………….to be continued.

Frederick Frieseke – The American Impressionist.

Frederick Frieseke

Many American painters after having completed their artistic training in their homeland were drawn across the Atlantic to Europe.  The lure of what was happening in France was hard to resist in the nineteenth century and more so in the latter part of that century when the world of Impressionism was in full flow.   My featured artist today was one of many to sample the delights of this art genre and became one of the great American Impressionists.  Let me introduce you to Frederick Carl Frieseke.

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Frederick Frieseke’s Birthplace and Boyhood Home  in the central Michigan town of Owosso

Frederick Carl Frieseke was born on April 7th 1874 in the small central Michigan town of Owosso.  He was among the first of the Friesekes to be born in America.  His grandfather, also Frederick Frieseke, who had fought in the Battle of Waterloo, came to America with his wife and family from the German village of Pritzerbe in Brandenburg, and settled in the small central Michigan town of Owosso in 1858.  Two years later two of his sons Julius and Herman enlisted in the Union Army during the Civil War.  After the war was over Herman set himself up in the business of manufacturing bricks and drain tiles, using the local salmon-coloured clay.  After a number of years, the two brothers became well known and well liked and held various offices in the town council.  Herman Carl Frieseke married a local Owosso girl, Eva Graham and the couple went on to have two children, a daughter, Edith in 1871 and a son, Frederick Carl in 1874.

In 1880, when Frederick was just six years old, his mother died.  The next year Herman and his family left Owosso and relocated to Florida where he and his brother Albert set up another brick-making business in Jacksonville.  Frederick returned to Owosso and attended the local public school.  During his early years he was influenced by his maternal grandmother, Valetta Gould Graham’s love of art.  Thoughts of a career as a professional artist intensified after he visited the World’s Columbian Exhibition in Chicago in 1893 and he was amazed by the numerous paintings and posters.  He enjoyed sketching and painting and realised that he too could earn a living from his art.

In 1893, Frederick Frieseke, after graduating from Owosso High School, enrolled at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago studying with the American artist, Frederick Warren Freer and the Dutch-American figurative painter John Vanderpoel. Fredrick remained there until 1896.  Having successfully completed his studies at the Art Institute he persuaded his father to give him money so he could take a trip to New York and enrol at the Art Students League.  His father acquiesced to this financial plea and Frederick headed for New York and enrolled in the men’s afternoon life class at the Art Students League. To make some money he decided to complete some cartoon drawings and sell them to popular magazines such as Puck, Truth, and the New York Times.  He later remembered the hard times of his New York stay, writing in a letter to his fiancée, Sarah O’Bryan, dated February 18th 1902:

“…I remember I didn’t much like my winter in New York.  I was doing jokes, and it wasn’t much to joke about, trying to make a living out of them. If I had had more success, though, I should never have come abroad, never have painted, and most important of all should never have known the dearest girl in the world…”

Art Students. Pen and ink drawing by Frederick Frieseke

It would appear that Frederick did just enough to survive.  He would submit a pen an ink cartoon to a publisher and would wait to see if was published and only then would he receive payment.  Having been paid Frederick would go to the library and read for days on end and would not put pen to paper again until he was almost broke.

See the source image
Montparnasse Landscape (Hilltop Street) by Frederick Frieseke

It was in 1898 that Frederick made the decision not to carry on with his cartoon drawings which were much in demand but instead concentrate on painting.  Once again he approached his father for financial support to pay for his sea passage to France.  Once again his father acquiesced and in September 1897 Frederick set sail on the SS Massachusetts, accompanying him was a fellow art student from the Art Institute of  Chicago and long-term friend from Michigan, Will Howe Foote. In early 1898 Frederick enrolled at the Académie Julian and for that first summer on foreign soil Frederick travelled to Holland and spent time in the artist colonies of Katwijk and Laren, where he concentrated on landscape painting using watercolours. 

Self-Portrait, 1901, Frieseke.jpg
Self Portrait by Frederick Frieseke (1901)

The Académie Carmen, also known as Whistler’s School, was a short-lived Parisian art school founded by James MacNeill Whistler.  It was named after Whistler’s Neapolitan model Carmen Rossi and it practiced the successful formula devised by Académie Julian, in which a model was available to artists, all day.   It operated from 1898 to 1901. The school was situated in a large house and stable at No. 6 Passage Stanislas, near the Rue Notre Dame du Champs, in the midst of the Montparnasse artists’ quarter. Frieseke along with his friend and travelling companion, Will Howe Foote, attended some of the classes.  Whistler taught without pay as a “visiting professor,” and appeared once a week to offer criticism.  It was Whistler who persuaded Frederick to paint in oils.

Holland, 1898 - Frederick Carl Frieseke
Holland by Frederick Frieseke (1898)

For an artist to survive he must sell his work and to sell his work he needs the chance to exhibit his paintings.  The Salons of Paris offered vital opportunities to the struggling artists but for young Americans who had come to Paris to further their ambitions there was another opportunity to show their work.  This opportunity was due to the American painter and philanthropist Abraham Archibald Anderson who conceived the idea of establishing an association for the benefit of American students in Paris. All he needed was a meeting place. 

Through his personal efforts, and those of his friends, such as Whitelaw Read, the US Ambassador to France and Rodman Wanamaker, the son of the millionaire department store magnate, John Wanamaker. Anderson had bought a half-ruined and abandoned building which he had discovered on the boulevard du Montparnasse. He then entirely restored it to its former glory and in May 1890 American Art Association of Paris finally opened its doors.

Misty Morning on the Seine, 1899 - Frederick Carl Frieseke
Misty Morning on the Seine by Frederick Frieseke (1899)

The Association would hold exhibitions of members paintings and at one of these Rodman Wanamaker noted the excellent drawings on the exhibition programme done by Frederick Frieseke, so much so that he invited Frieseke to become the illustrator of catalogues and advertisements for John Wanamaker’s stores in Philadelphia and New York.  After much discussion Friedeke accepted the position on the proviso he could remain in Paris.  Wanamaker agreed and Frieseke’s close relationship with the Wanamakers led to many painting commissions including Frieseke painting mural decorations which were installed in Wanamaker’s New York department store in 1904. In 1906 the murals he painted for the Shelbourne Hotel, Atlantic City, NJ, were put in place.

Sadie O’Bryan (1901)

It was not all work and no play for Frieseke as in 1900 love came a’calling in the shape of Sarah Anne O’Bryan.   Sarah Anne O’Bryan of Pittsburgh, known as Sadie, was the daughter of John Duross O’Bryan, an American judge, who had made and lost a series of fortunes in speculative ventures in the American West.  O’Bryan was fond of crossing the Atlantic to take vacations with his family and residing in Paris.

Luxembourg Gardens, 1902 - Frederick Carl Frieseke
Luxenbourg Gardens by Frederick Frieseke (1902)

In 1900, the O’Bryans had arrived in Paris and were living in an apartment at 72, rue Herschel, a very fashionable address not far from the Luxembourg Gardens,.  Their daughter Sarah, who, along with her younger sister Janet had accompanied them on this trip, was studying drawing and painting.   Soon after her arrival in the French capital she and Frieseke met. Very soon the couple fell in love and had, between themselves, agreed to an informal engagement.  However, when her father found out about this planned engagement he vetoed it as he would not approve his daughter marrying a poor artist. Frederick and Sadie were polar opposites.  She was very tall, almost six feet in height and elegant.  Frederick was short and dumpy and not the best dresser.  He was modest, single-minded and introverted.  She was vivacious, affected, gregarious and probably even more determined than him.  She was religious and her parents were staunch Catholics.  Frederick had a “take it or leave it” attitude to religion.  However love conquers all or would it?

Landscape, Le Pouldu by Frederick Frieseke (1901)

During the uncomfortably hot and often humid summer months, Paris was certainly a place to avoid and it signalled the departure of the artists from the French capital for this period.  In the summer of 1901 Frederick along with some fellow painters left Paris for a three-month stay in Britanny at the small fishing village of Le Pouldu.  Having begun to paint landscape scenes set around the Luxenbourg Gardens of the capital Freerick was eager to concentrate on landscape paintings and depict the area around Le Pouldu.  In a letter to Sadie in June 1901 he wrote about where he was living and what was happening:

“We are staying in a private house, a fine old country house, part of it built in 1728, so it says on the sun dial. . . . The country seems so lovely, and the sea and the river too…. It seems so peaceful down here. The people are so slow and I like everything: the black and white cows, the narrow little lanes with the trees meeting overhead, the dunes with one lonely cottage almost hidden, and the farms, houses of stone with thatched roofs and surrounded by trees which the sea winds have blown and twisted in strange shapes…”

However, all was not well with the decision of Frederick to concentrate on landscape depictions and at the end of June in another letter to Sadie Frieseke despondently wrote:

“…I have to confess that landscape is by far the most difficult thing I have tackled and that I am utterly unable to grasp it so far…”

With summer ending he and his fellow artists returned to Paris and resumed atelier painting and Frederick began the first of a life long series of female nude paintings

The Blue Bowl by Frederick Frieseke (1901)

In 1901, Frederick completed the painting entitled The Blue Bowl.  It was his first finished painting of a nude.  In a letter to Sadie Frederick, dated October 15th, 1901, he wrote about the painting:

“…I have a model mornings now. A blonde girl with rather reddish hair. Am trying to paint a nude–the first thing I have ever tried like that..”

Nude in a Glade, 1910 - Frederick Carl Frieseke
Nude in a Glade by Frederick Frieseke (1910)

If you peruse the illustrated Salon catalogues of the period you would find that academic artists depiction of nude females was simply part of storytelling, often a case of insincere moralising, or just a puerile fantasy.  However, Frieseke’s depiction of nude females was always more serious sober and quite simple, the painting’s purpose being directed not towards its subject matter but its manner. His down-to-earth approach to the subject and the subsequent resistance to it in his puritanical native land would create a stand-off that lasted throughout his career. Frieseke returned home to Owosso, Michigan for the first time in 1902 and again in a letter, that August, to Sadie, he wrote that he derived much pleasure in shocking the good Church people with the nudes.

Frederick Carl Frieseke, 1903 - Before the Mirror.jpg
Before the Mirror by Frederick Frieseke (1903)

Frederick Carl Frieseke, 1903 - Girl in Pink.jpg
Girl in Pink by Frederick Frieseke (1903)

Above are two further example of this genre of paintings which Frieseke completed during the first decade of the twentieth century.

Sadie and her family had returned to America in 1901 and did not return to France until 1903. She and Frederick had to survive on long-distance love but that was all about to change.

…………………………..to be continued.