DescriptionFREDERICK CARL FRIESEKE (American, 1874-1939)
On the Beach (Girl in Blue), 1913
Oil on canvas
32 x 32 inches (81.3 x 81.3 cm)
Signed lower right: F.C. Frieseke
Collection of Josephine Pettengill Everett (Mrs. Henry A. Everett), Cleveland, Ohio, and Pasadena, California;
Pasadena Art Institute, Josephine P. Everett Collection, Pasadena, California;
The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, Ohio, 1946;
Vose Galleries LLC, Boston, Massachusetts (labels verso);
Valley House Gallery, Dallas;
Private collection, Dallas, acquired from the above, 1965.
Salon de la Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, Paris, France, 1913, no. 481 or 484;
University of New Mexico Art Gallery, Albuquerque, New Mexico, and elsewhere, "Impressionism in America," February-March, 1965, no. 11;
The Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences, Savannah, Georgia, and elsewhere, "Frederick Frieseke, 1874-1939," November-December 1974, no. 8, as Girl in Blue;
Hirschl & Adler Galleries, New York, "Frieseke Retrospective Exhibition," 1975;
Berry-Hill Galleries, New York, "Frederick C. Frieseke: Women in Repose," May 2-June 23, 1990, no. 10.
"A Summer's Day," LIFE Magazine, July 23, 1965, pp. 76-7, illustrated as Girl in Blue.
This painting will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of Frieseke's work being compiled by Nicholas Kilmer, the artist's grandson, and sponsored by Hollis Taggart Galleries, New York.
Frederick Frieseke's exquisite On the Beach may be set on the island of Corsica, yet its technique and subject ultimately stem from his experience at the artist colony in Giverny in northern France. Lured from Paris in 1906 by his fellow American expatriate friends Frederick MacMonnies and Stanton Young, Frieseke and his new bride, Sadie, moved to Giverny, the site of Claude Monet's famous house and gardens around which an Impressionist art colony had been growing for two decades. The culture of Giverny was decidedly leisured and bucolic: the Friesekes played tennis, took tea, boated, strolled along country paths, and attended music parties with a whole host of American artists, including the Ernest Blumenscheins, Theodore Butler, the Karl Buehrs, the Henry Hubells, Lawton Parker, and the Guy Roses. Captivated by Monet's gardens, Frederick and Sadie also spent time shaping their own a sumptuous garden, which they organized by color and texture in order to inspire Frieseke's paintings; here, carefully placed green lawn furniture, complementing their yellow house, welcomed guests and models alike.
In this artful Giverny environment, two major shifts occurred in Frieseke's work: first, he abandoned the tonal "color fields" of his Whistler-esque Paris paintings, in favor of a more vivid Impressionist palette and broken brushwork. Second, he began painting en plein air, experimenting with the effects of sunlight on his female models, both clothed and unclothed, whom he placed in gardens, on riverbanks, and in boats. Frieseke elaborated on the importance of outdoor light in a 1914 interview: "It is sunshine, flowers in sunshine; girls in sunshine; the nude in sunshine, which I have been principally interested in for eight years. . . ."1
In search of sunlight after an especially rainy summer of 1912, Frederick, Sadie, and his favorite model, Marcelle, spent the next winter in Corsica, a popular Mediterranean retreat for French high society. Over the next several months, Frieseke produced three major paintings of Marcelle, including the present On the Beach, all of which were exhibited in the 1913 Salon of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts in Paris. The most elegant and compositionally sophisticated of the six, On the Beach depicts Marcelle as if straight off the pages of Gazette du Bon Ton, wearing fashionable resort wear: ankle-laced slippers, form-fitting dress with ruffle trim, and feathered cap. Her Japanese parasol, prominent in Frieseke's Giverny paintings, serves as both a decorative accessory and a practical sunshade. Frieseke also painted Marcelle nude on the beach, a practice that would have been unthinkable in the United States in 1913. In the related On the Dunes, Marcelle appears seemingly moments later after her stroll in On the Beach: superimposed upon a backdrop of dune grasses, she now kneels completely naked on a white cloth (draped over the stool in On the Beach) and on her blue dress that she has just removed, with the parasol neatly folded by her side. Nicholas Kilmer, grandson of the artist, reminisces about the adventure of Marcelle's posing nude on the open shore: "In two paintings depicting Marcelle, she was unencumbered by the 'bathing dress' that appears in "Girl in Blue" [On the Beach] -- and I well remember my grandmother's telling me of her assigned task, which was to stand guard at the top of the dunes in order to warn Frieseke and his model if anyone was approaching."2
On the Beach, by foregrounding themes of both nature and artifice, encapsulates the duality of Frieseke's artistic philosophy. On the one hand, he believed that a composition should be natural, rendered on the spot without fussy arrangement of forms, in order to capture the fleeting nature of light:
I do not believe in patching up a picture inside, after beginning it out-of-doors, nor do I believe in continuing a study from memory in the studio [nor] in constructing a picture from manifold studies which have been made in plein air. . . . The longer I paint the stronger I feel we should be spontaneous.3
In On the Beach, Frieseke suggests the importance of "naturalness" in painting through the subject of nature itself: sun-dappled, striated turquoise waves and golden sand, dimpled with footsteps, frame Marcelle, whose slender form casts a long midday shadow. As in many of his paintings, the horizon line disappears, compressing the female model within nature. Frieseke further indicates that Marcelle is "one" with nature by having her body bridge the sea and shore and by dressing her in the colors of the surrounding landscape: her ivory shoes blend into the sand, her blue dress and green cap echo the hues of the waves, and her floral tan parasol recalls the dotted tan beach. Marcelle turns into the sun toward the dunes as if responding to someone calling her name; Frieseke captures this casual and subtle movement, a snapshot in time.
Despite his insistence on the spontaneity of painting, Frieseke constructs his compositions deliberately, which, as some critics noted, often produced a synthetic or decorative quality:
His light hardly seems to be plein air light at all. In fact it seems entirely artificial . . . a stunning concoction of blues and magentas frosted with early summer green and flecks of white.4
Whatever [Mr. Frieseke] does has a sense of design, color, and style. A sense of gayety, an entertaining and well considered pattern, a remarkable knowledge of the effect of outdoor light on color are found in nearly all of his most recent paintings.5
Indeed, a closer study of On the Beach reveals Frieseke's conscious ordering of colors and shapes: with an edited palette of blues and creams, he superimposes ivory parasol on turquoise waves and blue dress and shadows on ivory beach. Anchoring the composition, Marcelle's vertical form intersects the diagonal lines of water and ground, and together with her shadow and the stretched-out cloth behind her, she creates linear "spokes," much like the ribs in her parasol. Too, the circles of the parasol and of the flecked sand in the foreground counterbalance the lines of Marcelle's body and of the waves. This compositional artifice is symbolized by Marcelle's own artifice, as she is playing dress-up with props of parasol, drapery, and stool. In fact a working-class model, Marcelle wears the beach attire of a wealthy tourist, and her Japanese umbrella further connotes upper middle-class luxury, as well as exoticism and decorativeness. Far from a quick snapshot, On the Beach is a precisely crafted scene where Marcelle, herself a decorative object, boldly holds the viewer's gaze, showing off her beauty within an equally beautiful setting.
1: Interview with Clara T. MacChesney, published on June 7, 1914.
2: Letter from Nicholas Kilmer to the current owner, October 15, 1989.
3: N. Kilmer, Frederick Carl Frieseke: The Evolution of an American Impressionist, Savannah, Georgia, 2001, p. 93.
4: W. Gerdts, "Frederick Carl Frieseke 1874," Butler Institute of American Art.
5:The New York Times, June 27, 1915, in Kilmer, p. 95.
Original canvas; scattered spots of minor frame abrasions along extreme edges commensurate with age; does not appear to be evidence of in-painting under UV exam; appears to be in overall very good condition. Framed Dimensions 37.5 X 37.5 Inches
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