Frederick Carl Frieseke (1874–1939)
Leading American impressionist painter most well known for his impressionist depictions of outdoor figure subjects
By Tiffany Win
Spending most of his life in France, Frieseke came to be one of the most influential members of the Giverny art colony, as well as one of the leading American impressionists. He is most recognized for his depictions of female subjects, both indoors and outdoors, and his oeuvre is lauded for studying the various effects of dappled sunlight.
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Frederick Carl Frieseke was born in Owosso, Michigan on April 7, 1874. His father was a successful brick manufacturer who moved the family to Florida in 1881 after the death of Frieseke’s mother. Though Frieseke showed early talent during his public school days in Owosso, evidenced by his idle drawings in his school textbooks, it was only when the nineteen-year-old visited the art pavilion of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago that he began to see the art world as one he could inhabit. Between 1893 and 1896, Frieseke attended classes at the Art Institute of Chicago, after which he felt confident enough to move to New York and pursue a career in draftsmanship. He enrolled in the Art Students League and began to sell cartoon drawings to periodicals such as the New York Times, Puck, and Truth between 1896 and 1897. Eventually, he was encouraged by colleagues, such as Lawton Parker, as well as by the cultural life of New York to change his course and become a painter.
In September 1897, Frieseke set sail for France to enroll in the Académie Julian with Jean-Joseph Benjamin Constant and Jean-Paul Laurens. Frieseke came under the influence of James McNeill Whistler, although he may have studied no more than a week with him at the Académie Carmen. The influence of Whistler is found in Frieseke’s focus on flattened shapes, juxtaposed patterns, and surface design in order to create harmonious arrangements, or “art for art’s sake.” Frieseke experienced great success shortly after arriving in Paris, with his first submission to the Salon of the Société National des Beaux-Arts in April 1899 and admission to the American Art Association of Paris on the boulevard du Montparnasse. Through this club, Frieseke met his patron Rodman Wanamaker, son of the department store magnate John Wanamaker, who supported the artist’s meager living salary for a regular supply of drawings. He also commissioned larger projects as well, such as mural decorations installed in Wanamaker's New York department store in 1904 and in the Shelbourne Hotel in Atlantic City in 1906.
In April 1901, two of Frieseke’s paintings were accepted into the new Salon of the Société National des Beaux-Arts. Shortly after this success, he began the first of a lifelong series of studio nudes in order to establish himself as an artist outside of the classroom. Frieseke defined himself as an impressionist in a 1912 interview, during which he stated his artistic goals to be “sunshine, flowers in sunshine; girls in sunshine; the nude in sunshine.” However, his paintings also suggest that Frieseke was more concerned with creating the beauty of the whole image, and not to simply “compose a picture before nature.”
In 1905, Frieseke began to spend his summers in Giverny, and in 1910 he exhibited with the Giverny luminists at the Madison Art Gallery in New York. Many American painters in Paris were drawn to the artist colony in Giverny at this time as Frieseke was because of the presence of the aging impressionist Claude Monet. Frieseke began to devote himself to honing what would become the hallmark of his artistic career: outdoor scenes and sunlight. By adopting a broken brushwork and vibrant palette, Frieseke explored the impressionistic effects of light to create beautiful compositions His subjects were usually nude women in a garden to refer to Monet’s gardens, but Frieseke’s keenest concern was how light illuminated and defined the female form. His conservative impressionism manifested his wish to balance an interest in shimmering light with an emphasis on the structure of figures and objects; to reconcile visual experience with the imperatives of design.
In the early 1920s, Frieseke shifted his focus to subjects engaged in contemplative activities such as reading, sewing, and playing the piano in interior spaces. The paintings from the last twenty years of his life explored the universe of the mind in which mood, image, and execution meld into deeply personal paintings that transcend time and place in their emotional power. Frieseke remained interested in the effects of light, but his subjects and works began to take on more structure and solidity in form in order to create such powerful contemplative moments.
In 1920, Frieseke was made Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor. He moved to Le Mesnil-sur-Blangy, Normandy in 1922, and although he contemplated returning permanently to his homeland, he died at his farmhouse in Normandy at the age of 65 on August 28, 1939.
1874 Born April 7 in Owosso, Michigan to Herman Carl Frieseke and Eva Graham Frieseke.
1880 Mother dies.
1885 Lives in Jacksonville, Florida with his father and sister.
1893 Visits the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
1893-96 Attends classes at the Art Institute of Chicago.
1896-97 Moves to New York and attends classes at the Art Students League. Prepares drawings for publications such as the New York Times, Puck, and Truth.
1897-99 Travels to Paris. Studies at the Académie Julian. Studies at the Académie Carmen under James McNeill Whistler.
1899 Agrees to provide drawings for Wanamaker catalogues for a regular stipend.
1900 Visits Germany.
1901 Exhibits in the Salon of the Société National des Beaux-Arts, Paris, and is elected an associate. Is invited to join the International Society of Painters and Sculptors, Paris. Spends the summer in Le Pouldu, Brittany.
1902 Spends much of the year in the United States, working in Owosso, Michigan, and visiting Philadelphia and New York. Special showing of eight of his works in the Art Institute of Chicago’s annual exhibition.
1903 Sends three works to the June exhibition of the International Society of Sculptors, Painters, and Gravers in London.
1904 Wins silver medal at the St. Louis Universal Exposition. In Philadelphia, works briefly as an advisor in the art department of the North American, a Wanamaker newspaper.
1905 Exhibits at the Venice Biennale and at the 9th Internationalen Kunstausstellung in Munich, where he receives a gold medal. Visit Giverny. Marries Sara O’Bryan in Paris.
1906 Paints murals for the Hotel Shelburne, and in February 1906 travels to Atlantic City for the mural installation. Beginning in 1906 the Friesekes spend summers in Giverny (until 1919).
1907 Travels to New York for installation of mural decoration in the Wanamaker Building’s auditorium. Exhibits 26 pieces at Schulte’s Art Gallery in Berlin. Elected to full membership in the Société National des Beaux-Arts.
1908 Exhibits first outdoor figure subjects from Giverny at the International Society of Painters and Sculptors, Paris.
1909 Exhibits 17 canvases at the 8th International Exhibition of Art in Venice.
1910 Exhibits in The Giverny Luminists at Madison Art Gallery, New York.
1911 Visits New York and Los Angeles.
1912 First exhibition with Macbeth Gallery, New York. Is elected an associate in the National Academy of Design, New York. Spends the winter of 1912–1913 in Corsica.
1913 Wins Temple Gold Medal at the 108th Annual Exhibition of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia. Exhibits at the Detroit Museum of Art.
1914 Elected an academician in the National Academy of Design, New York.
1915 Serves with the American Ambulance Hospital at Neuilly, outside Paris. Wins a gold medal and the grand prize at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco.
1916 Receives Norman Wait Harris Silver Medal, Art Institute of Chicago, 29th Annual Exhibition of American Oil Paintings and Sculptures.
1918 Exhibits at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts’s 130th Annual Exhibition. Spends the winter of 1918–1919 in Roussillon on the Mediterranean coast.
1920 Purchases home in Le Mesnil su Blangy, Normandy. Is named Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor.
1921 Begins series of watercolor studies of Florida subjects (later to be worked in oil).
1922 Is awarded a gold medal at the Philadelphia Art Club’s 30th Annual Exhibition. Exhibits at 21st Annual International Exhibition of Paintings at the Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh.
1923 Breaks with the Salon of the Société National des Beaux-Arts. Exhibits at Grand Central Art Galleries.
1923-31 Exhibits with the Salon des Tuileries, Paris.
1924 Has solo show at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
1925 Exhibits once more with the Salon of the Société National des Beaux-Arts.
1926 Visits Matisse. Exhibits 6 oil paintings at Durand-Ruel’s Exposition du groupe des peintres et sculpteurs americains de Paris. Spends the winter of 1926–1927 in Nice painting watercolors.
1927 Shows at the first exhibition of the Associated Dealers in American Paintings, New York.
1928 Visits the United States for the last time.
1929 Spends the winter of 1929–1930 in Font Romeu, in the Pyrenees.
1930 Joins his wife and daughter in Samaden, Switzerland and paints Swiss landscapes.
1931 Exhibits 17 paintings at the Addison Gallery of American Art, Philips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts.
1932 Returns to Normandy.
1937 Daughter marries Kenton Kilmer and moves to the United States.
1938 Exhibits in special exhibition at the Venice Biennale.
1939 Exhibits at the Grand Central Art Galleries, New York, in March. Dies at home in Le Mesnil sur Blangy, Normandy, on August 24.
Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, MA
Brigham Young University Museum of Art, UT
Brooklyn Museum, NY
Chrysler Museum, Norfolk, VA
Crocker Art Museum, CA
Cummer Museum of Art, Jacksonville, FL
Detroit Institute of Arts, MI
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C.
Indianapolis Museum of Art, IN
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA
Maier Museum of Art, VA
Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY
Minneapolis Institute of Arts, MN
Musée des Impressionnismes (formerly the Musée d'Art Américain), Giverny, France
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA
Museum of the National Academy of Design, NY
National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
National Museums Liverpool, UK
New Britain Museum of American Art, CO
North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, NC
Philadelphia Museum of Art, PA
Shiawassee Arts Center, Owosso, MI
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington D.C.
Telfair Museums, Savannah, GA
Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago, IL
The Huntington Library, CA
Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid
Wichita Art Museum, KS
1898 Salon of the Société National des Beaux-Arts
1901-23 Salon of the Société National des Beaux-Arts
1902 Art Institute of Chicago
1905 Venice Biennale
1906 Schulte’s Art Gallery
1908 International Society of Painters and Sculptors
1909 International Exhibition of Art, Venice
1910 Madison Art Gallery
1912 Macbeth Gallery
1913 Detroit Museum of Art
1914 Corcoran Gallery of Art
1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition
1916 Art Institute of Chicago
1918 Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
1921 Salon of the Société National des Beaux-Arts.
1922 Carnegie Institute
1923 Grand Central Art Galleries
1923-31 Salon des Tuileries
1924 Corcoran Gallery of Art, solo exhibition
1925 Salon of the Société National des Beaux-Arts.
1927 Associated Dealers in American Paintings
1931 Addison Gallery of American Art
1932 Salon of the Société National des Beaux-Arts.
1939 Grand Central Art Galleries, retrospective
American Art Association of Paris
International Society of Painters and Sculptors
National Academy of Design
Salon of the Société National des Beaux-Arts.
1. Nicholas Kilmer, "Frederick Carl Frieseke: A Biography," in Frederick Carl Frieseke: the evolution of an American Impressionist (Savannah, GA: Telfair Museum of Art, 2001), 13.
2. Maddox, Kevin. "Biogrpahy and Works: Frederick Carl Frieseke." El Museo de arte Thyssen-Bornemisza. http://www.museothyssen.org/en/thyssen/ficha_artista/216 (accessed March 19, 2012).
3. Kilmer, 15
4. Barbara Weinberg, "Frieseke’s Art Before 1910," in Frederick Carl Frieseke: the evolution of an American Impressionist (Savannah, GA: Telfair Museum of Art, 2001), 62.
5. Kilmer, 17
8. Weinberg, 53.
10. Virginia M. Mecklenberg, "An Artist In Transition: Frieseke in the 1920s and 1930s," in Frederick Carl Frieseke: the evolution of an American Impressionist (Savannah, GA: Telfair Museum of Art, 2001), 99.