Frederick Carl Frieseke (1874-1939) was an American Impressionist Painter who was part of the Giverny group, but until recently was not very well-known. Frieseke was born in Owosso, Michigan, in 1874 and, from a young age, he was interested in many forms of art. He first began studying art at the Art Institute of Chicago, but he also studied in New York and in France. While Frieseke studied only briefly under James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903), he was perhaps more influenced by Whistler than any of his previous instructors. He was most inspired by Whistler’s use of gradation of color. Other influences on his work included the flat and decorative features of the Art Nouveau style. Frieseke himself also stated that “no artist in [the Impressionist] school has influenced me except, perhaps, Renoir.”
This may explain why, though Frieseke is generally regarded as an Impressionist painter, his work also has elements of other styles. Take, for example, his painting Venus in the Sunlight. He uses wide brushstrokes which are characteristic of the Impressionist style, making it seem as though you are viewing a painting with a kaleidoscopic lense. He also uses light, pastel colors and is focused on the effects of light. For the sake of comparison, look at another American Impressionist painter. In Celia Thaxter in Her Garden, artist Childe Hassam (1859-1935) paints a similar scene: a woman outdoors in a flowery area. Hassam’s painting looks softer and perhaps blurrier rather than harsh and fragmented like Frieseke’s painting.
In Venus in the Sunlight, the nude female is the focus of the painting and anything else around her is unimportant. We know that she is outdoors and in a garden or field, but can we make out anything else? There is a blanket, a parasol, grass, and some flowers or purple leaves but, especially behind the figure, it is hard to tell what anything is. It looks more like an abstract background meant to highlight the nude figure than anything else. The leaves or flowers just blend into the water, which then blends into the grass and there is no beginning or end to anything. It almost seems as though the nude female is suspended in a flowery void, relishing the sunlight.
Another example is our very own The Bird Cage (pictured above) here at the New Britain Museum of American Art. Again, the main focus is on the female. It can be safely assumed that she is standing in a garden of some sort or perhaps a field, but there is no clear indication of where she is exactly. This is not too common in other Impressionist works – yes, they are usually “impressions” of a scene or a place, but usually the location of the painting is identifiable. Here, the background looks busy, unimportant, and flat. The only thing that stands out is the figure of the woman – even the bird cage and the bird itself blend into the background.
Frieseke is known for painting the female form, both nude and clothed, and it is in part due to this reason that he moved to France, as artistic interest in the nude form was still a controversial matter in America. Despite this, he claimed that his main interest was the effects of sunlight. He has said, “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.”
Do you think Frederick Frieseke differed from other Impressionist painters of the time, either French or American? Why do you think he moved to France? Would you say he was more influenced by other Impressionists or painters like Whistler? Do you enjoy his artwork?
1. Frederick Carl Frieseke. By: Johnson, Mark M., Arts & Activities, Jan. 2002, Vol. 130, Issue 5.