This painting will be included in the Frederick C. Frieseke Catalogue Raisonné being compiled by Nicholas Kilmer, the artist's grandson, with the support of the Hollis Taggart Galleries, New York.
Frederick Frieseke's garden in Giverny, the setting for a number of his finest pictures, is depicted in The Garden with dazzling color and vitality. Executed at the height of his career, The Garden is a superb example of Frieseke's favorite motif and the very best of this series.
In the summer of 1906, Frieseke settled in Giverny where the landscape, sunshine and freedom to paint as he wanted inspired him to remain for almost two decades. Giverny was an artist colony led by French Impressionist Claude Monet 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 Frieseke's 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) As exemplified by The Garden, Frieseke’s backyard provided the primary inspiration for his most dazzling Giverny compositions. A New York Times interviewer visiting the artist there described, “There is a tangle of flowers, with a pool in the center, a crooked old apple tree at one end. It has often been painted by that early impressionist, Theodore Robinson, who occupied the house for years. The house is painted yellow and its blinds are green. But it is almost hidden on the garden side by trellises of roses, clematis, and passion vines.” Continually inspired by this environment, Frieseke told the reporter, “We’ve remodeled the house, decorated it, and with the garden, it serves as my studio from April to December…I have a small room in which I store my canvases and painting traps and show my pictures. But I seldom use it to work in…I never paint inside unless driven in by the weather.” (C.T. MacChesney, “Frieseke Tells Some of the Secrets of His Art,” New York Times, June 7, 1914, sec. 6, p. 7)
This passion for painting en plein air reflects Frieseke’s emphasis on natural sunlight in his work. In his own words, he always chose to paint "sunshine, flowers in sunshine; girls in sunshine; the nude in sunshine." (“Frieseke Tells Some of the Secrets of His Art,” p. 7) Here, Frieseke captures a woman shading herself with a parasol from the bright light pervading the garden scene. Enveloped by the variegated scene surrounding her, she blends into the pattern of dotted flowers and plants. The result is a cohesive tapestry of color and light which evokes the essence of a spring day in the countryside. Frieseke reflected on his technique to achieve this effect, "I know nothing about the different kinds of gardens, nor do I ever make studies of flowers. 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...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…The longer I paint the stronger I feel that we should be more spontaneous…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 the picture." ("Frieseke Tells Some of the Secrets of His Art," p. 7)
Through this philosophy of spontaneous, short brushstrokes and its jewel-like palette, The Garden transforms “the simple, though hardly rustic, everyday life of relaxed enjoyment of sunshine and flowers” into a brilliant display of greens, blues and purples with hints of reds, yellows and the lighter tones of revealed canvas. The sun-filled scene is further dramatized through the blue-striped dress worn by the sitter and also seen in her reflection. As David Sellin describes Frieseke’s Lady in a Garden (circa 1912, Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago, Illinois), “the stripes are like blue flames licking upward from the blades and blossoms to envelope the figure, blending her in scintillating harmony with the flowering masses behind—a flower among her flowers.” (Frederick Carl Frieseke: The Evolution of an American Impressionist, exhibition catalogue, Savannah, Georgia, 2001, p. 88) Such striking patterns were innovative and influential within the Giverny art scene, as Dr. William H. Gerdts notes, "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, New York, 1993, p. 172) In The Garden, as in his other works from this period, the artist's dappled treatment of sunlight, the direction and texture of his brushstrokes and contrasts of light and shadow create a patterned harmony reminiscent of the Post-Impressionists.
The Garden is a masterful example of Frieseke's garden paintings and conveys the full vision of the artist's lively Impressionist style. The vitality of Giverny and the quiet reflection of the model are poignantly recorded as he successfully creates an idyllic image that embraces the scene in its most beautiful and picturesque form. Indeed, this painting was included in Frieseke’s all-around grand prize-winning exhibition at the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition, which inspired contemporary critic Eugen Neuhaus to proclaim, “canvases like The Garden and The Bay Window are the real jewels of light and color...Frieseke's clear, joyous art is typically modern, and expresses the best tendency of our day.” (A Critical Review of the Paintings, Statuary, and the Graphic Arts in the Palace of Fine Arts of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, San Francisco, California, 1915, pp. 84-85)