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Frederick Carl Frieseke (1874-1939)
Frederick Carl Frieseke (1874-1939)

La Poudreuse (Woman Selecting a Necklace)

Frederick Carl Frieseke (1874-1939)
La Poudreuse (Woman Selecting a Necklace)
signed 'F.C. Frieseke.' (lower right)
oil on canvas
32 x 32 in. (81.3 x 81.3 cm.)
Painted by 1913.
The Display Centre, London, 1948.
Private collection, acquired from the above.
Private collection, by descent.
Sotheby's, New York, 28 November 2007, lot 86.
Acquired by the present owner from the above.
Edinburgh, Scotland, Royal Scottish Academy, The Exhibition of the Royal Scottish Academy of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture, MCMXV, The Eighty-Ninth, May 8-September 4, 1915.

Lot Essay

Frederick Frieseke’s La Poudreuse (Woman Selecting a Necklace) is an exquisite example of the intimism practiced by the American artists in Giverny. This genre, developed by the Nabis, featured artfully posed female models in decorative interiors illuminated by natural light. With its subtle light and beautiful tonal harmonies, La Poudreuse (Woman Selecting a Necklace) demonstrates Frieseke at the height of his abilities.

Frieseke was one of the leading figures among the second generation of American expatriates in France. He first studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Art Students League in New York before leaving for Paris in 1898 to continue his studies. There Frieseke enrolled at the Académie Julian and also at the Académie Carmen, James McNeill Whistler’s short-lived school. Whistler's passion for Japanese art, for decoration, and for distinctive color arrangements had a lasting influence on Frieseke's work. By 1900 Frieseke was spending summers in Giverny and, after achieving artistic and financial success, was able to purchase a home there in 1906. He chose American Impressionist Theodore Robinson’s former house next door to Claude Monet’s. Like Monet, Frieseke was inspired by the landscape and the sunshine.

The title of the present work, La Poudreuse (Woman Selecting a Necklace), derives from the small dressing table with several compartments and a fold-up mirror at which the model sits. Its name originates from the face powder typically applied before it. The woman, likely the artist’s wife Sarah O'Bryan, sits before her poudreuse, compartments open, selecting a necklace to wear. In this intimate scene, the viewer gets a glimpse inside her daily dressing routine. Her plain white dressing gown is offset by the intricate floral bouquets of the wallpaper behind her. The vibrant colors and patterning are reminiscent of Pierre Bonnard’s interiors, while the light shining down from an unseen window in the upper right recalls Vermeer.

The mood is contemplative yet cheery. The open top of the center compartment draped with a blue and yellow shawl begins a diagonal line that recedes into the painting through the sitter on to the back of the green Windsor chair. A second diagonal line formed by the left lid of the poudreuse, the hand mirror and the sitter’s left arm forms an X, instilling depth, balance and harmony to the scene. The structure of the composition is similar to those of Édouard Vuillard. Both Vuillard and Frieseke often presented their figures in corners of rooms, viewing them diagonally and from a slightly elevated vantage point. While deeply influenced by the French Impressionists and the Nabis, Frieseke’s compositions also possess techniques revolutionized by the Post-Impressionists. As William H. Gerdts writes, “Frieseke's use of flat, interlocking patterns to achieve two-dimensional effects allies his art to French Post-Impressionism.” (Monet's Giverny: An Impressionist Colony, New York, 1993, p. 174)

Frieseke was at the height of his career during the 1910s and early 1920s, when he painted La Poudreuse (Woman Selecting a Necklace) and was perhaps the most popular of all living American artists. His ability to manipulate light and imbue his models with an air of psychological independence makes him one of the most accomplished American Impressionist painters of the female figure.

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.

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