The Fuller Building, 41 East 57th Street, 9th Floor New York City, NY 10022 212.535.8810
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$ 125,000

The Coral Necklace

Origin United States
Period 1900-1919
Materials Oil on canvas
W. 19 in; H. 20 in;
W. 48.26 cm; H. 50.8 cm;
Condition Excellent.
Description The leading member of the contingent of American Impressionist figure painters working in Giverny, France, during first two decades of the twentieth century, Frederick Frieseke attracted international acclaim for his intimate portrayals of attractive women in well-appointed domestic settings and sun-dappled flower gardens. An expatriate who exhibited his work in the art capitals of Europe, Frieseke also maintained a vital presence in American art circles, making numerous trips back to the United States, where his brilliantly colored paintings were featured in the major national annuals, as well as at the prestigious Macbeth Galleries in New York.

Born in Owosso, Michigan, Frieseke studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago from 1893 to 1896. (For a comprehensive examination of Frieseke’s life and career, see Nicholas Kilmer et al., Frederick Carl Frieseke: The Evolution of an American Impressionist, exhib. cat. [Savannah, Georgia: Telfair Museum of Art, 2001].) He then moved to New York, attending classes at the Art Students League while working as a cartoonist and illustrator for magazines such as Puck and Truth. In 1897 he traveled to Paris, continuing his training at the Académie Julian, where he honed his skills as a figure painter under the tutelage of Benjamin Constant and Jean-Paul Laurens. One year later, Frieseke studied briefly at James McNeill Whistler’s Académie Carmen, at which time he abandoned his former interest in watercolor in favor of working in oils. In the ensuing years, he painted images of women in their boudoirs, working in a subdued tonal style that reflected the influence of Whistler. From 1898 until about 1907, Frieseke received financial assistance from Rodman Wanamaker––a prominent collector and son of the department store magnate John Wanamaker––who bought his paintings and provided him with a number of lucrative decorative commissions, including the execution of a major mural for his family’s New York store. (In 1912, Wanamaker donated Frieseke’s Woman with a Mirror [Femme qui se mire] [1911] to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.)

In 1900, Frieseke made his first visit to Giverny, a quiet agricultural village on the Seine, about forty-five miles northwest of Paris, which became an important gathering place for American impressionist landscape painters, such as Theodore Robinson, Willard Metcalf, and John Leslie Breck, during the late 1880s. While its rural setting and proximity to Paris made Giverny the perfect choice for artists who sought to work en plein air, the presence of Claude Monet, a resident of the town since 1883, also accounted for its transformation into an international art colony. (For American impressionists in Giverny, see William H. Gerdts, Monet’s Giverny: An Impressionist Colony, 1885–1915 [New York: Abbeville Press, 1993] and Katherine M. Bourguignon, ed., Impressionist Giverny: A Colony of Artists, 1885–1915, exhib. cat. [Giverny: Musée d’art Amerícain, Terra Foundation for American Art, 2007].) Indeed, Frieseke returned to Giverny again during the summer of 1905, staying at the legendary Hotel Baudy. In the following year, shortly after his marriage to Sarah O’Bryan of Philadelphia, he decided to settle there permanently, while maintaining a studio in Paris.

Frieseke’s move to Giverny marked the beginning of the most significant phase of his art, one that involved a new interest in light and color in relation to the depiction of women. Abandoning his former Whistlerian manner, Frieseke adopted a more advanced mode of painting in which he melded the brilliant palette and broken brushwork of Impressionism with pictorial concerns related to Post-Impressionism. As pointed out by William H. Gerdts, his new style represented “the more decorative direction that Impressionism was to take in the twentieth century . . . repeated patterns of figural shapes, patterns on costume, patterns on the curtains and coverings of furnishings, patterns of flowers and dappled sunlight were integral to his art” (William H. Gerdts, American Impressionism [New York: Abbeville Press, 1984], p. 266). Frieseke’s late Impressionist manner also set an important example for other members of the post-1900 American Givernois, a group of figure painters, primarily from the Midwest, which included Karl Anderson, Richard Miller, and Louis Ritman, who likewise portrayed fashionable women in indoor and outdoor settings. (On the occasion of an exhibition of their work, held at the Madison Art Gallery in New York in 1910, the group was dubbed the “American Luminists at Giverny.” See Bruce Weber, The Giverny Luminists: Frieseke, Miller and Their Circle, exhib. cat. [New York: Berry-Hill Galleries, 1995].)

By 1914, examples of Frieseke’s work could be found in the Musée du Luxembourg in Paris, the Galleria d’Arte Moderna in Venice, and the Museum of Odessa in Russia. In New York, art aficionados had the opportunity to see his paintings at the National Academy of Design, where he was elected an associate member in 1912, and a full academician two years later. Frieseke’s paintings were also shown at the Macbeth Galleries, which represented him in New York from 1912 until his death in 1939. The Freisekes spent the World War I years in France. As he wrote to his New York art dealer, William Macbeth in 1914:

You will see we are still staying by the flag. Things were sufficiently exciting with aeroplanes dropping bombs. We are provisioned for a six months’ siege. I couldn’t stand leaving Paris after the years I’ve lived her. Seemed like running away (as quoted by Nicholas Kilmer, “Frederick Carl Frieseke: A Biography,” in Kilmer, p. 35).

During the war Frieseke volunteered with the Red Cross Ambulance Service in Neuilly, a suburb of Paris where the American Hospital of Paris is located.

As noted by one contemporary commentator, Frieseke’s Giverny canvases depict “a pleasant existence––a walk in the garden, lunch under the trees, an hour of relaxation on a couch, the business of making up or the weighty problem of deciding what necklace to wear” (“Frederick Carl Frieseke––Painter,” in The Index of Twentieth Century Artists [New York: College Art Association, 1937], p. 236). The Coral Necklace, painted about 1917, offers a classic Frieseke image: a portrait of an attractive young woman engaged in adjusting her appearance, in this case, apparently arranging the hairpins on the back of her head. She wears a blue kimono-style peignoir, semi-translucent and trimmed with beads covering a lower-cut white garment. The only clearly defined aspect of her outfit is a strand of coral beads, a short matinee length varying in diameter from largest in the center graduating to smaller size nearer the clasp. Frieseke’s model here was a Giverny resident named Louise, a familiar face in the artist’s paintings who frequently posed for him when he was not painting his wife, Sadie (Sarah O’Bryan Frieseke). The Coral Necklace is not a narrative painting. The young woman may be pinning her hair for the day, or she may be undoing the pins, at day’s end. The ambiguity is intentional. Frieseke was clear about what he painted and why. In December 1915, he wrote to MacBeth:

You speak of my last pictures being more brilliant in color. I should have explained before what I am aiming at in my work, which has [for] a number of years been constant––experimenting to attain the purity of color and truth of light effect. . . . My methods are as careful, honest and simple as oil painting will allow of. Perhaps if your salesmen would dwell on this quality in my work as the one which should interest the public, and by no means the subject, which I feel of secondary importance––it might tend for success (as quoted in by Nicholas Kilmer, “Frederick Carl Frieseke: A Biography,” in Kilmer, p. 36).

That is to say, The Coral Necklace is not a picture about a necklace, or even about a young woman engaged in her toilette. It is Frieseke’s exploration above all of color, and the effect of light on perceptions of color. The background is a shimmery and varied pink, the dressing gown a semi-diaphanous blue, the woman’s hair an auburn-tinged brown and the necklace an unmistakable coral reflecting light off its individual beads.

In 1920––the year he was appointed a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor of France––Frieseke left Giverny and moved into a house in the Normandy town of Mesnil-sur-Blangy, where he resided until his death in 1939. He continued to paint figure subjects and portraits for the remainder of his career, adhering to a more subdued palette and imbuing his paintings with a greater degree of realism, as well as an introspective mood. He also added landscapes and still lifes to his repertoire of themes. However, his late work attracted little attention. It was the innovative and very prismatic canvases he painted during his years in Giverny that brought him sustained critical and commercial success and set him apart from mainstream American Impressionism.
Styles / Movements Impressionism
Dealer Reference Number APG 20965D.002
Incollect Reference Number 255130
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