Frederick Carl Frieseke: The Evolution of an American Impressionist. (Learning from Exhibitions)
Johnson, Mark M., Arts & Activities
It is not surprising that a current exhibition on the American Impressionist, Frederick Carl Frieseke, is receiving national acclaim from critics and the public alike; but this worthy praise is long overdue. Although he has been admired for his distinctive contributions to American painting, and even though his works are treasured in museum collections across the country, Frieseke, somehow, has escaped the most serious scrutiny and recognition, until now.
The mature works of this artist, while clearly Impressionist, are distinctively unique and easily identifiable. The surfaces of his pictures are speckled with dabs of oil pigment almost reminiscent of a tapestry in its pattern and texture.
Although Frieseke has been referred to as a "painter of women" because of their overwhelming frequency as subjects in his paintings, his primary concerns were actually sunlight and its various effects sparkling within his compositions and across their rich, textured surfaces.
The Telfair Museum of Art in Savannah, Ga., has long been interested in the light-drenched canvasses of Frieseke. In 1905, the museum engaged the superb American painter, Gary Melchers, to serve as fine arts director to expand the collection. Melchers acquired Frieseke's Marcelle, a female nude, in 1910, and The Hammock in 1917. Another painting, The Green Umbrella, would be donated to the museum in 1942.
In 1974, the Telfair organized a modest traveling exhibition and catalogue, but it was not until this current show that Frieseke finally received his first retrospective exhibition and documentary catalogue in tribute to his remarkable talents and career. Organized by the Telfair Museum, with the assistance of the artist's grandson and others, this ambitious and seminal project casts a new light on the artist and the Impressionist movement in America in the early 20th century.
The exhibition, The Evolution of an American Impressionist, consisting of more than 80 paintings from public and private collections, premiered in Savannah before traveling to museums in Memphis, San Diego and, finally, to the Terra Museum of American Art in Chicago (Dec. 8, 2001-Feb. 3, 2002). While it is unfortunate that the exhibition cannot travel to additional venues, the resultant catalogue, children's book and documentary film are important additions to any library.
A native of Owosso, a small river town in Michigan, Frederick Carl Frieseke (1874-1939) exhibited an interest in art from a very early age. He attended public school and was an avid reader, although the drawings he made in the margins of his textbooks revealed the true course of his interest.
At age 19, he visited the art pavilion of the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago where he was so impressed with what he saw that he began formal training in December of the same year at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. His studies then took him to the Art Students League in New York City where he attempted to support himself by selling cartoon drawings to a variety of publications.
In 1897, at the age of 23 and with some backing from his father, Frieseke sailed for France on the SS Massachusetts. In the late 19th century, Paris was a magnet for artists; there, Frieseke lived on the left bank. He enrolled in the Academie Julian, an institution popular with American students, and soon fell under the influence of a number of turn-of-the-century French painters, as well as the famed American painter James Abbott McNeill Whistler, who encouraged the emerging Frieseke to switch from watercolors to oil paints.
Frieseke's career spanned the period from the beginning of the 20th century to World War II, and the majority of his career and his adult life were spent in France where he found inspiration and artistic freedom. His early period, from about 1897-1905, was heavily influenced by an academic style all too visible in the museums, galleries and salons of Paris. …