San Diego Museum of Art

photo: John Hazeltine

Balboa Park, San Diego, CA



Frederick Carl Frieseke: The Evolution of an American Impressionist

September 8 - November 11, 2001


One of the preeminent American painters of his generation, Frederick Carl Frieseke will be featured in a major retrospective exhibition this fall at the San Diego Museum of Art. The exhibition entitled Frederick Carl Frieseke: The Evolution of an American Impressionist presents the work of one of America's finest impressionist painters who was also a central figure in the group of American artists working in Giverny, France, home to the renowned French impressionist, Claude Monet. An expatriate, Frieseke built an international reputation on his luscious, light-filled paintings of women at leisure, indoors, and out of doors.

Organized by the Telfair Museum of Art in Savannah, Georgia, and guest curated by Nicholas Kilmer, Frieseke's grandson, this traveling retrospective is the largest and most comprehensive exhibition of Frieseke's work ever assembled, consisting of more than seventy paintings drawn from both public and private collections. Chronicling his life and work, the exhibition reveals the full breadth of Frieseke's genius through examination of the three phases of his artistic evolution -- from his early period, to his fully developed impressionist stage, to his later realism.

"It is a special privilege to present our visitors the work of such an important American impressionist painter who is only now receiving the attention he deserves. This is truly a rare opportunity to appreciate the full range of Frieseke's achievement in a single exhibition. His glorious figure studies, landscapes, and interiors are among the most highly regarded examples of American impressionism" says the Museum's executive director Dr. Don Bacigalupi.


Frieseke's Career and Artistic Development

Like so many other ambitious American artists of the period, Frieseke, a native of Michigan, followed the footsteps of many of his countrymen to the well-known art schools of Paris. He first enrolled in the Académie Julian and then in the Académie Carmen -- the atelier of the American painter James McNeill Whistler. In France, Frieseke found inspiration and artistic freedom, remaining there for the majority of his adult life and career. Frieseke's early work, dating from his arrival in Paris in 1897 to his move to Giverny in 1905, was influenced by the academic style favored in the Paris salons and the tonal approach of his famous teacher, Whistler.

The second stage of Frieseke's evolution -- 1905 to 1920 -- began after he moved to Giverny. He adopted a looser brushstroke and lighter palette, working in the characteristic impressionist style for which he is best known. As the home of the artist Claude Monet, the remote village of Giverny attracted painters from all over the world and became a popular artists' colony, There, a loosely knit school of expatriate American painters who had settled in this picturesque French village was formed. Frieseke was a central figure and he was largely responsible for the representative aesthetic that evolved. Embracing a style that celebrated light, color, and the female form, he established as the group's standard themes: women in sunlit gardens, intimate domestic settings, and of course, the nude. (left: Venus in the Sunlight, oil on canvas, 1913, Manoogian Collection)

Frieseke and his American wife, Sarah O'Bryan married in 1905. They made Giverny their summer home for nearly fifteen years. In Giverny they befriended Monet. Although Monet was notorious for his scorn of foreign painters, he tolerated Frieseke in large part because Frieseke's wife shared Monet's passion for gardening. This exclusive entry into the walled gardens of French impressionism surely encouraged Frieseke to focus on the sun-dappled nudes and colorful scenes of women in flower-filled gardens for which he has become famous.

The Frieseke family built a life together; Sarah was Frederick's principal model and muse for many years. They also raised a daughter, Frances, who is featured in her infancy in many of the artist's works. During their Giverny years, Frieseke shipped his paintings to the United States, to be sold by his dealer in New York. The impressionist style was in high demand in the U.S. and Frieseke was able to support much of his life in France with his sales from home. Frieseke's remarkable paintings demonstrate his mastery of capturing the effects of sunlight, not only on the flesh, but also on flowers, fabrics, and in everyday leisure activity.

This impressive exhibition concludes with works from the artist's late career. In 1920 Frieseke moved his family to the Normandy region of France. There he continued to explore the interaction between light and the human form, but he focused largely on interior settings. His favorite subject during this period was his daughter Frances, who increasingly became his model. Although his palette darkened and his use of decorative pattern was more restrained, Frieseke never lost his interest in reflected light and its effects on the figure. The legacy of his Giverny works would remain with him to his late works from the 1920s and 1930s.



The exhibition's catalogue provides the first significant, in-depth analysis of Frieseke's life and work ever published. The fully illustrated 220-page hardback features a biographical overview by the artist's grandson, Nicholas Kilmer as well as essays by H. Barbara Weinberg, Ph.D -- curator of American painting and sculpture at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Virginia Mecklenburg, Ph.D.-- curator at the Smithsonian American Art Museum; and David Sellin, Ph.D.-- independent art historian, curator, and author. Published jointly by the Telfair Museum of Art and Princeton University Press, the catalogue contains 107 full color and 79 black-and-white reproductions.


Internet resources for Frederick Carl Frieseke:

Editor's note: RL readers may also enjoy:

a 7 minute slide show posted on YouTube of Frederick Carl Frieseke paintings accompanied with he music of Schubert.


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This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 5/28/11

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