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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 !
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.
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.
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…”
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.
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…”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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