Frederick Carl Frieseke (1874-1939)

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Lot 16
Frederick Carl Frieseke
(American, 1874-1939)
The Garden Chair 28 1/4 x 35 3/4in

Sold for US$ 962,500 inc. premium

American Art

21 May 2014, 14:00 EDT

New York

Property from the Descendants of Herbert and May Fleishhacker
Frederick Carl Frieseke (American, 1874-1939)
The Garden Chair
signed 'F.C. Frieseke' (lower left)
oil on canvas
28 1/4 x 35 3/4in
Painted by 1912


    The artist
    With The Macbeth Gallery, New York, 1913
    Panama-Pacific International Exposition, San Francisco, California, 1915
    Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Fleishhacker, acquired from the above
    By descent to the present owner

    New York, The Macbeth Gallery, Exhibition of Paintings by F.C. Frieseke, N.A., February 26-March 18, 1913, n.p., no. 7.
    Detroit, Michigan, Detroit Institute of Arts, and elsewhere, Paintings by Frederick Carl Frieseke, March 18–April 4, 1913, no. 26.
    (Possibly) Worcester, Massachusetts, Worcester Art Museum, Exhibition of Paintings by Margaret Wendell Huntington & A Collection of Paintings lent by Mr. William Macbeth, June 7 –July 5, 1914.
    New York, The Macbeth Gallery, A Group of Selected Paintings by American Artists, October 27-November 16, 1914, n.p., no. 7.
    Washington, D.C., The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Fifth Biennial Exhibition of Oil Paintings by Contemporary American Artists, December 15, 1914–January 24, 1915, no. 106.
    San Francisco, California, Panama-Pacific International Exposition, February 20–December 4, 1915, no. 4103.
    San Francisco, California, Palace of the Legion of Honor, First Exhibition of Selected Paintings by American Artists, November 26, 1926–January 30, 1927, n.p., illustrated.
    San Francisco, California, M.H. De Young Memorial Museum, The San Francisco Collector, September 21-October 17, 1965, p. 30, no. 84, illustrated.

    J.E.D. Trask and J.N. Laurvik, ed., Catalogue De Luxe of the Department of Fine Arts, Panama-Pacific International Exposition, vol. II, San Francisco, California, 1915, p. 315.
    F.M. Todd, The Story of the Exhibition, Being the Official History of the International Celebration held at San Francisco in 1915 to Commemorate the Discovery of the Pacific Ocean and the Panama Canal, New York, 1921, n.p., reproduced in an installation photograph.

    This painting will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of Frederick C. Frieseke's work being compiled by Nicholas Kilmer, the artist's grandson, and sponsored by Hollis Taggart Galleries, New York.

    In September of 1912, Frieseke wrote to William Macbeth, who had recently become his dealer in New York, that despite a bad summer – lots of rain – "I have managed to do a good season's work in spite of it" His summer's paintings would soon be ready to send, he promised, "about twenty canvases." And, he added – with a modesty that was not unusual for him, "I think I can put up a better show than last year" (September 16, 1912, Archives of American Art, Macbeth papers, NMc46, 542). The show "last year" had been Frieseke's first one-person exhibition since being taken on by what was arguably the most important gallery in the United States for a living painter.

    THE GARDEN CHAIR arrived in New York with the rest of the shipment in January, 1913, in good time for Macbeth's February Exhibition of Paintings by Frederick C. Frieseke, a sample of new work that would travel to the Detroit Museum of Art and to the Art Institute of Chicago later that spring.

    1912 had been a year of extraordinary success in the United States for a painter who had not quite reached his fortieth year. Based on the success of the Macbeth show in January, Frieseke had been given extensive notice in the New York Times, Arts and Progress, and Arts and Decoration, in all cases with favorable critical comment being accompanied by reproductions of his paintings. He had been invited to do a major exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago. Macbeth was making sales, and he was represented in the permanent collections of American museums – the Telfair in Savannah and the Art Institute of Chicago, shortly to be followed by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. His paintings were already included, in Europe – where he had achieved his first success – in the collections of the Palais du Luxembourg, Paris, and the Modern Art Gallery in Venice, where the Biennale of 1909 had devoted special attention to his work.

    Visitors to the special exhibition at the Biennale (17 canvases, some quite large) might be forgiven for having the impression that they were observing the work of two painters rather than one. Frieseke's winter compositions, executed in the Paris studio on the Blvd. St. Jacques, concentrated on the figure – invariably female, often nude, and realized with considerable discipline of draftsmanship. Though the viewer is not intended to do so, we perceive easily enough that the surroundings of the figure as presented are composed of studio furniture – the couch, the dressing table, the patterned cloth – rather than being observed within a space where daily life is transpiring, and might well interrupt the painter's arrangements or concentration.

    Who can fail to perceive the primary (we might almost say "primal") subject of Femme nue endormie, the foreshortened nude that Frieseke exhibited in April of 1912, at the salon of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts? The nude, complemented by no more than the strong lines of relevant furniture, and the colors and patterns of associated draperies, had for the past decade been Frieseke's strong suit in the European exhibitions. This was the painting by which he was represented in the salon's Catalogue illustré. The painter is in control, not only of the elements of his composition, but of its source. The Parisian model (Jeanne Savoy) will take the same pose at the same time on Wednesday as she did on Tuesday. The light will not vary. Couch and draperies remain where the painter wants them – even the folds in the draperies, for the most part, have no particular reason to change from one day to the next, as long as the model is reasonably careful.

    There is no record that this magnificent nude was ever exhibited in the United States during the painter's lifetime.

    The second Frieseke on display in Venice in 1909 was a painter who had been working out of doors, during the warmer months, since at least 1905, when he is first known to have visited Giverny. The task he set himself outdoors was to accommodate the discipline of his methods to the random vagaries of the natural world observed at close quarters. Again, amongst the three paintings he chose to exhibit at the 1912 salon, was what must have been White Lilies, which would therefore have been painted the previous summer in Giverny, in a spot almost identical to that where the model is placed in THE GARDEN CHAIR.

    In composing such a painting as White Lilies, the painter has necessarily surrendered certain elements that he has been used to control, to circumstance. The viewer's eye is dazzled as the painter's must have been, by shifting patterns of sun and shade. We are puzzled by the way the cropping of the parasol, at top, and the chair's legs at bottom, force us to assume a limitless universe whose apparent edges, in the artist's view, are as arbitrary as the square edges of the canvas. The balance of the composition comes almost from the will of the viewer.

    If my conjecture is correct, THE GARDEN CHAIR was painted in Giverny a full year (almost to the day, judging from the bloom) after White Lilies, in June of 2012. Femme nue endormie was still on display in the salon exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris, fifty miles away. Jeanne Savoy would not work for Frieseke in Giverny for another year or two (it is she in the Metropolitan Museum's well-known Summer of 1914, in a pose and costume reminiscent of the earlier painting, Femme nue endormie.) The woman represented in THE GARDEN CHAIR was a professional model who appears in a number of Frieseke paintings of this time. It is not easy to sort through the sequence of impressions that register as the viewer is making sense of the painting. There are issues of pattern, harmony and the struggle the brain undertakes unconsciously to transform two dimensions into three, adjusting for scale and distance. Much has been written elsewhere (as this writer knows all too well) about this painter's struggle to bring the inhabited garden landscape onto his canvas.

    Perhaps of equal interest in our observation of this painting, is evidence of the painter's tact in allowing us the reassurance that he understands that the structure supporting the model's voluminous garments is a substantial and well-understood female human body, seen as clearly by the painter as that of Jeanne's in Femme nue endormie. Indeed the pose is similar, and similarly challenging. The elongation of the reclining figure is tempered by the slight foreshortening that allows its placement on a moderate diagonal. Should there be any question concerning the artist's confidence as a draftsman, given the apparent speed and looseness with which the plants in the garden are registered, that question is quickly put to rest by the stunning, almost equally "easy" accuracy, of the model's hands, crossed ankles and foreshortened shoes, as well as her charming face. The figure is beautifully known and understood. Given the percentage of the canvas it occupies, there is no question of its importance within the general subject as the viewer sees it: the (female) figure in a garden.

    The viewer, who may sometimes also be the critic, may persist in "reading" the painting's image as if were an illustration, taken, for example, from the calendar for June. In order to get closer to Frieseke's own thinking, we might undertake to look past the obvious, and take into account as well other aesthetic considerations that occupied the attention of those who exhibited their work in the Paris (or New York) of 1912. This world was far from simple or straightforward, given the intellectual currents of futurism, abstraction, cubism, that were challenging the impressionism that had long since challenged the more sedate themes and methods that persisted in the academies.

    The poet Guillaume Apollinaire, also an influential art critic who often published his responses to the salons, offers an interesting summary of an aesthetic approach that might as well grow out of Whistler's "harmonies" as from Braque's and Picasso's cubism. "The new painters," he wrote, "paint works that do not have a real subject, and from now on, the titles in catalogues will be like names that identify a man without describing him."

    "It took me two days to name all those pictures," Frieseke confessed to Macbeth, speaking of the 1912 shipment. "I can't remember to save me what I called them" (Frieseke to William Macbeth, from Corsica, Jan. 24, 1913, Archives of American Art, NMc61339-40).
    "If painters still observe nature [Apollinaire continues], they no longer imitate it, and they carefully avoid the representation of natural scenes observed directly or reconstituted through study.... Today's art is austere...
    Verisimilitude no longer has any importance, for the artist sacrifices everything to the composition of his picture. The subject no longer counts, or if it counts, it counts for very little...the new painters provide their admirers with artistic sensations due exclusively to the harmony of lights and shades, and independent of the subject depicted in the picture" (Guillaume Apollinaire, "On the Subject in Modern Painting," Les Soirees de Paris, February, 1912, quoted in Apollinaire on Art: Essays and Reviews, 1902 – 1918, ed. LeRoy C. Breunig, New York, Viking Penguin, 1972, pp 197-198).

    Although Apollinaire is surely reflecting on what we would today classify broadly as "non-representational" art, his words pertain as well to the ruthless control Frieseke maintains over the color harmonies he permits within THE GARDEN CHAIR, the banality of whose title also claims forgiveness within this context. The painting's subject is as much pale greens and lavenders, accentuated by pale pinks, as it is a garden chair and its occupant. In the pursuit of his own aesthetic, Frieseke could be as stubborn as any cubist. Perhaps for this reason, as well as in acknowledgement of the popular success of his canvases, the American critics could exhibit an occasionally surly response, based on reading his images as if they were illustrations of a carefree life being lived a good distance away from, for example, Detroit ...

    "A very cheerful exhibition was that of seventeen paintings by Frederick Carl Frieseke ... pictures in which the artist combines figure and landscape in a most decorative way. Frieseke is an artist who loves the flowers, which, singing harmonies to him in a high key, he bends toward his own ends, and with a woman's figure in so proper a setting, he builds up a design and color scheme which deservedly has brought him much honor" (Bulletin of the Detroit Museum of Art, vol. vii no. 2, April, 1913, p. 32. The review is of the exhibition that included THE GARDEN CHAIR).

    ... or New York, where the critic from the New York American observed, "his ladies ... spread themselves in attitudes of luxurious languor that nothing but the limits of the frame restrained. In a word, they were super abundantly decorative." (March 3, 1913). The New York Post writhed in resentful ambivalence, "Mr. Frieseke certainly has a favorite subject. His work is facile, gay, delightful, at times insistently sweet and too repetitious ... It would be ungrateful, however, not to admit the pleasure received from these pictures which are never dull, never pompous or heavy, and are painted so frequently with brilliancy and wit" (New York Post, March 1, 1913).

    Today, at a full century's remove from the date when THE GARDEN CHAIR was composed, we can balance our admiration for the painting, and our pleasure in it, against the critic's comparison with "the frugal sobriety of such men as [Rockwell] Kent and Bellows, for example" ("Frieseke's Paintings: Good Examples of What is Accomplished by the Trained Franco-American Artist", by J. N. L., March 1, 1913. This author is likely J. Nilsen Laurvik in the New York Times). Impossible for us now not to reflect on the myriad social upheavals that occupied the world of 1912; and the shadow of the impending war, during which the Friesekes, unlike many of their colleagues among the American artists, would remain in France. A licensed critic of anything is as likely to set up as a critic of everything, and the art critic easily becomes a social critic as well. There is no reasonable answer to the unreasonable question how a painter, alert to the complexities of the world around him, could keep his creation from being infected by those complexities, and (to use an unsuitable metaphor), stick to his guns, as Frieseke would throughout the war – protecting and elaborating the themes he had adopted as his own, even within earshot of the big guns.

    THE GARDEN CHAIR was executed on a series of the "gray days" prized by plein-air painters, in which the prolonged overcast makes colors sing, without the distraction of cast shadow. The figure's modeling is gentle, as it would be in indoor light. The blossoms hover almost as if each is inhabited by its own retained light. The effect, laborious and prolonged in execution, allows us, if we wish to infer our own participation in the scene, to enjoy the illusion of pleasant weather that threatens neither storm nor sun glare. The artist's control over his materials, and his composition, allows us to feel a similar, and benevolent, control over the inspiring event, for all it is constructed artificially, within the garden of a family's living space.

    Frieseke was, finally, a domestic painter, his focus narrowing more firmly toward that goal as the war approached. He had married Sarah O'Bryan in 1905, and, after several miscarriages, their only child, Frances, would be born in Paris on the opening day of hostilities, in August, 1914. During the summer of 1913, while THE GARDEN CHAIR toured the United States in the company of others of his paintings, Frieseke undertook to work from the same pose once more, using a larger format. In Summer (The Hour of Tea) the principal figure is the painter's wife. Still in the Giverny garden, on the verge of her first successful pregnancy, she is accompanied by an exuberant still life, as well as by the model Jeanne Savoy, and an unidentified man - possibly Louis Ritman. Nothing compels us to read a "story" into the image. The majority of the title was added later, to assist the viewer with a lifeline. The painter's own (and only) title for the picture, when it was hung in the salon in April, 1914, was Summer, nothing more. In this painting the sun is insistent enough to require Jeanne's parasol to open, and Sadie to adjust her straw hat against the glare. The painter responds to different weather. Because we know that the painting is created in the Giverny summer of 1913, we may also choose to read symbolism into the image. But if we do, the responsibility is our own.

    Frieseke did not choose to paint themes of disaster or dismay, complaint or self- aggrandizement. Nowhere in his work, or in his correspondence – nor even in my own recollection of his widow's many accounts of their life together – is there any mention of the disastrous studio fire that destroyed so many of his paintings in December, 1912 – fortunately after the November shipment that included THE GARDEN CHAIR.

    -Nicholas Kilmer, 2014
Frederick Carl Frieseke (1874-1939)
Frederick Carl Frieseke (1874-1939)
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