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Sunday, February 23, 2014

Frederick Carl Frieseke

House in Giverny, 1912, Frederick Carl Frieseke--the "vacation rental."
Frederick Carl Frieseke, Self-portrait,
watercolor, 1901
Imagine, as an artist, living right next door to one of the greatest painters in the world, yet hardly knowing him, hardly on speaking terms, and not being influenced by his art. Such a scenario seems highly unlikely at best, impossible being the more probably verdict. Though hardly a success as a painter at the time, in 1883, the consummate Impressionist, Claude Monet moved to the small town of Giverny in the Normandy area of France. There he first rented a house, then bought it, enlarged it several times, while cultivating a carefully landscaped garden. There he lived, and painted for the second half of his life. His painting, Garden in Giverny (below) dates from 1902. Monet was forty-three at the time. He died at Giverny in 1926 at the age eighty-six. By that time the art icon had outlived all his artist friends and most of his critics alike. But this is not about Monet. This is about his next-door neighbor, the American expatriate Impressionist, Frederick Carl Frieseke (left).
Garden in Giverny, 1902, Claude Monet--the path to his front door.
This is where a reader might tend to become a bit incredulous. How could an Impressionist painter, starting in 1906, living next door to Claude Monet for thirteen years (until 1919), not help but be influenced by such a giant in the world of painting during the first quarter of the 20th century? Only Picasso himself, in Paris at the time, would come even close to having attained such stature (and in fact, didn't do so until later in the century). Although Frieseke claims to have had, at best, only a nodding acquaintance with his illustrious, if somewhat reclusive, neighbor; and insisted he was not at all influenced by Monet, the fact is that all Impressionist have felt the man's influence to some extent, in one way or another. After all, Monet was Impressionism, as sure as if his name had been listed as a synonym for that style in the dictionary.
Lady in the Garden, 1912, Frederick Carl Frieseke, a brilliance of color and
melding of textures that would have made Monet rub his eyes in dismay.
Frederick Carl Frieseke live in a house once occupied by another American Impressionist, Theodore Robinson (top), who had been a very close friend of Monet during the 1880s and definitely was influence by him. In comparing his relationship with Monet, and Monet's influence on Robinson, Frieseke was on solid ground in distancing himself from Giverny's most famous residence. Likewise, in comparing the work of Frieseke to that of Monet, it's not hard to see that at best, they were of two very different generations and that Frieseke's "neo" (sometimes called "decorative") Impressionism bore only a passing resemblance to Monet's original works from the 19th century. However, if Impressionism changed, as more and more Americans adopted and adapted it, so did Monet's manifestation of the style. Part of this change can be chalked up to the simple fact that Monet was growing old, his eyesight was fading in his latter years, and arthritis was an unending hindrance as he worked. However, any artist content to simply rest on past laurels, even in old age, quickly becomes not much of an artist, at least in the creative sense. That was not Monet. Some of his best works came from his studio and his beloved gardens during these waning years.
The Birdcage, 1910, Frederick Carl Frieseke
Frederick Frieseke was born in 1874 (making him 34 years younger than Monet). He grew up in in Michigan and Jacksonville, Florida, where his father owned a brick factories. Frederick began his art studies at the Art Institute of Chicago then moved on the Art Students League in New York in 1895. He tried earning a living as an illustrator and cartoonist but soon decided instead to follow the well-worn (and crowded) artists' path to Paris where he turned up at the fabled Academie Julian for a season or two then took up with fellow American James McNeill Whistler at the Academie Carmen. Later he traveled to Holland then returned to Paris determined to be a watercolorist. Another American expatriate at the Academie Carmen, Frederick William MacMonnies taught him oils. Despite all this formal (and expensive) training Frieseke considered himself self-taught, which probably was an overestimation of his strengths as an instructor. Despite the European instruction and influence, Frieseke's style during this time maintained the literal and lineal elements of his American beginnings.
Summer, 1914, Frederick Carl Frieseke. No wonder artists flocked to Giverny.
Portrait of Frederick Carl Frieseke, 1910,
Karl Anderson
Around 1905 Frieseke first visited Giverny for a month, about the same time he married his old girlfriend from the states, Sarah Anne O'Bryan (Sadie). The house next door to Monet was a rental. The couple maintained an apartment and studio in Paris but spent their summers in Giverny, where Frieseke became the de facto leader of what's become know as the Giverny Group including such names as Richard E. Miller, Lawton S. Parker, Guy Rose, Edmund Greacen and Karl Anderson, whose 1910 Portrait of Frederick Carl Frieseke (right) provides an interesting insight into Frieseke and his working attire. While Monet continued painting his carefully landscaped gardens, Frieseke's art used the lush Giverny beauty as merely a background for his emphasis on Impressionist female nudes. Monet's presence, his impressive home, and expansive gardens made the Giverny Art Colony a natural mecca for Impressionists from as early as 1887 until Paris and its environs lost its luster with the advent of WW I. After the war Frieseke traveled with his family to Switzerland and later the South of France. He died in Normandy in 1939, still claiming not to have been influenced by Monet. As his many nude Impressionist ladies would suggest, Frieseke did admit a certain affinity for Renoir however, whom he seems never to have met.

Frieseke's portrait of fellow American, Lawton Parker, also an Impressionist painter.


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