An Artist Abroad: Frederick Carl Frieseke (1874-1939) in Holland and France

An American expatriate, Frederick Carl Frieseke left New York for Paris in 1898 to attend the Académie Julian and the Académie Carmen, where he studied with James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834–1903). In the summer of the same year, Frieseke traveled to Holland, visiting the artist colonies in both Katwijk and Laren. Like many American artists at the turn of the century, Frieseke was drawn to the Hague School of painting, influenced by Dutch Golden Age artists. American artists found the pastoral lifestyle and Protestant ethic of Dutch village people appealing, and longed for the simplicity of pre-industrial colonial America. This nostalgia manifested itself in works by artists such as Robert Henri (1865–1929), William Merritt Chase (1849–1916), and John Singer Sargent (1856–1925), who produced utopian visions of Dutch society that resonated with the ideals of the American Progressive Movement such as hard work, family, and women’s suffrage.

Along a Country Path, 1898

Created in Holland during Frieseke’s first year abroad, Along a Country Path features a delicate modeling and delineation of forms that marks the artist’s work, even as it became increasingly impressionistic. Frieseke’s layering of watercolor creates impressive, jewel-like washes of color, especially in the modulating tones of the grass and shimmering golden leaves. His use of opaque white gouache in the bonnets of the women emphasizes the significant location where this scene takes place. The simplicity of the homes in the background and the appearance of buckets in the hands of the hard working women exemplify the use of such tropes by American artists to represent the ideal lifestyle found in the Dutch countryside.

Country Landscape, 1916

Created many years after Frieseke first arrived in France, Country Landscape is representative of the impressionistic style he developed while working abroad. Between 1906 and 1916, Frieseke spent his summers in Giverny, where he often used his home and garden as a setting for many splendid interior and exterior paintings. Country Landscape, possibly executed at his summer home, features decorative patterning of white and blue pigment arranged to create a mystical landscape surrounding a white neoclassical building. This decorative sensibility was popular with Post-Impressionists, and often reflected a fascination with Japanese art and culture. Having studied with Whistler around the turn of the century, Frieseke would have been familiar with Japonisme as well as Whistler’s own interest in decoration. These two images encompass the major shifts in Frieseke’s work during his time abroad, from the early influence of the Hague School through his leadership at the Giverny artist colony where he was dubbed “The Decorative Impressionist.”

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