Frederick Carl Frieseke was among the handful of American painters who established themselves in Giverny at the turn of the century, settling himself in the small French village in 1900. Of the Americans who established themselves in Giverny, Frieseke lived and worked in the town the longest, remaining for nearly two decades. While abroad, Frieseke fully embraced Impressionist painting. He considered himself a "true Impressionist", using nature as his inspiration and rejecting "all accepted rules of painting."
In Giverny, Frieseke and his new wife rented the former house of Theodore Robinson, which featured a private garden enclosed by a high wall. The property was adjacent to that of Claude Monet and the artists often shared the same scenery in their paintings. The majority of Frieseke's most accomplished paintings are of women awash in bright sunlight or in an interior reclining or thoughtfully engaged in a quiet activity. The artist's natural yet protected domicile allowed Frieseke the privacy to paint en plein air from the nude model or in his studio.
Frieseke's depictions of women, nude and clothed, show his lifelong interest in the effects of light and the Impressionist technique. His ladies in outdoor settings underscore the artist's mastery of his subject matter and technique. Bright beams of sunlight filter through groves of blossoming trees, surrounded by brightly colored flowers and foliage and spots of sunlight dapple the surrounding grass, garden or space which they occupy. These applications of light and color show a masterful technique of defining form and figures.
Nude is a skillfully rendered image of a woman reclining before a decorative floral print tapestry. William 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 ." (W. Gerdts, Monet's Giverny: An Impressionist Colony, New York, 1993, p. 172) In Nude, Frieseke combines his superb treatment of subtle, diffused light which washes over the marble-white reclining figure with a skillful incorporation of quick Impressionist brushstrokes. This enhances the decorative wall fabric behind her and the subtler embroidered fabric upon which she lays. In 1908, Frieseke was lauded by a French Salon critic and singled out for his "nudes of mother-of-pearl, so voluptuous and chaste, discovered in settings that are filled with reflections." (Les Arts et Les Artistes, April-September 1908, p. 70)
Virginia Mecklenburg writes that while he "remained interested in the light illuminated and defined the human figures [Frieseke] shifted his focus to subjects engaged in contemplative activities such as reading, sewing, and playing the piano." (Frederick Carl Frieseke: The Evolution of an American Impressionist, Princeton, New Jersey, 2001, p. 99) The subject in Nude is not engaged in a particular activity, but the importance is the stylistic interest by the artist to depict women and figures who are withdrawn from their surroundings and imbued with an introspective air.
Frieseke's complex compositions in the late 1910s and 1920s exhibit a more measured and ordered approach to spatial balance and according to Ms. Mecklenburg, were perhaps a result of the artist's own inward focus on his career. Frieseke wrote, underscoring this newly found, contemplative thought process, "my present method of painting allows me to produce very few pictures compared with what I turned out previously ...These pictures take five to six times as long to paint as previous ones--and I consider them far more complete as works of art." (as quoted in Frederick Carl Frieseke: The Evolution of an American Impressionist, p. 99) In addition, one of the reasons Frieseke chose to remain in Giverny for so long was so he could continue to paint and sell his nudes to a market that was more accepting and conditioned to such subject matter versus the American art market. In a letter dated June 1997, Nicholas Kilmer notes that often times "Frieseke's figures were compared and related to those of proceeding masters such as Renoir, Manet and Degas. Though he never surrendered his identity as an American painter, it took several years before he enjoyed anything close to commercial success in his own country."
Ultimately, Frieseke's depictions of the female nude either in or out-of-doors, stand as masterpieces within his oeuvre. His ability to play with light and technique and imbue his models with an air of psychological independence, positions the artist as one of the most virtuous American Impressionist painters of the female nude, continuing the venerable art historical tradition of female representation.
This painting will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of Frieseke's works being compiled by Nicolas Kilmer, the artist's grandson, and sponsored by Hollis Taggart Galleries, New York.