In the summer of 1906, Frederick Frieseke settled in Giverny where the landscape, sunshine and freedom to paint as he wanted inspired him to remain there for almost two decades. Led by French Impressionist Claude Monet, Giverny was an artist colony that had been favored by American artists including Theodore Butler, Willard Metcalf, Richard Miller, Theodore Robinson and Guy Rose. Notice of the group of American Impressionists appeared swiftly in the press. In October 1887, a critic for The Art Amateur suggested that the development of an Impressionist expatriate style was immediate and profound: "Quite an American colony has gathered, I am told, at Givernay [sic], seventy miles from Paris, on the Seine, the home of Claude Monet, including our Louis Ritter, W. L. Metcalf, Theodore Wendell [sic], John Breck, and Theodore Robinson of New York. A few pictures just received from these young men show that they have got the blue-green color of Monet's impressionism and 'got it bad.'" ("Boston Art and Artists," The Art Amateur, 17, no. 5, October 1887, p. 93, as quoted in R. H. Love, Theodore Earl Butler: Emergence from Monet's Shadow, Chicago, Illinois, 1985, p. 59)
After arriving in Giverny, Frieseke lived in Theodore Robinson's former house, next door to Monet. The intricate and extravagant garden of the French Impressionist painter had a significant impact on Frieseke while his own house also had a "beautiful old garden, running riot with flowers, vines and trees." (W.H. Gerdts, Monet's Giverny: An Impressionist Colony, New York, 1993, p. 172) Frieseke's work in Giverny often incorporated his garden whether as seen through a window of an interior or as the backdrop for a model. "Frieseke's garden paintings reflect the simple, though hardly rustic, everyday life if relaxed enjoyment of sunshine and flowers and reading. Summertime leisure dress was the norm; for the models perhaps a kimono." (D. Sellin, "Frieseke in Le Pouldu and Giverny: The Black Gang and the Giverny Group" in Frederick Carl Frieseke: The Evolution of an American Impressionist, exhibition catalogue, Princeton, New Jersey, 2001, p. 88)
Two dominant themes developed among the Americans in Giverny. As noted by Dr. William H. Gerdts, "they opted primarily for landscape work, while others who were more concerned with the figure, applied the strategies of Impressionism to the more traditionally acceptable themes of radiant children and ideal, even virginal young women, and eschewed the scenes of modern, usually urban life, found in the streets, theatres, and cafés, subjects preferred by many of the French figurative Impressionists." (American Impressionism: Masterworks from Public and Private Collections in the United States, Switzerland, 1990, p. 12) Frederick Frieseke focused on the latter, preferring "monumental images of women, single or in pairs, clothed or nude, and posed either in domestic interiors or in garden settings." (Monet's Giverny: An Impressionist Colony, New York, 1993, p. 172)
In The Kitchen Door, a woman wearing a flowered kimono is enveloped in variegated flowers and vines as she steps out of the resplendent light into a darkened kitchen. Conveying a romantic parallel between the woman and flowers, Frieseke blends her into the background essentially placing a "flower" within the flowers. The artist noted, "My one idea is to reproduce flowers in sunlight. I do not suggest detail by form, [but use] strokes of color in oil to produce the effect of vibration, completing as I go...If you are looking at a mass of flowers in the sunlight out of doors you see a sparkle of spots of different colors--then paint them that way...Often one obtains accidental notes out of doors which really construct a picture...I usually make my first notes and impressions with dashes of tempera, then I paint over this with small strokes as I have to keep it as pure as possible or the effects of brilliancy will be lost." (C.T. MacChesney, "Frieseke Tells Some of the Secrets of His Art," New York Times, June 7, 1914 as quoted in Frederick Carl Frieseke: The Evolution of an American Impressionist, p. 88)
The Kitchen Door is an example of Frieseke's balanced and symmetrical compositions, emphasized by the centered doorway. The flowers throughout the garden as well as on the woman's robe provide an opportunity for the artist to add pattern to the composition. Dr. Gerdts has noted that "it was Frieseke who introduced into the repertory of Giverny painting the concern for rich, decorative patterns, related to the art of Edouard Vuillard, Pierre Bonnard, and the other Nabi painters. There are patterns of furniture, patterns of parasols, patterns of fabric and wall coverings, patterns of light and shade, and patterns of flowers, all played off one another in bright sunshine...." (Monet's Giverny: An Impressionist Colony, p. 172) In The Kitchen Door, as in other works from this period, the artist's use of sunlight, the direction and texture of his brushstrokes and contrasts of light and shadow create a patterned harmony reminiscent of the Post-Impressionists.
Ultimately, Frieseke's depictions of the female either in or outdoors, stand as masterpieces within his oeuvre. His ability to play with light and technique and imbue his models with an air of independence continues the venerable art historical tradition of female representation and positions the artist as one of the most venerated American Impressionist painters of women.
This painting will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of Frieseke's work being compiled by Nick Kilmer, the artist's grandson, and sponsored by Hollis Taggart Galleries, New York.