Sunday, March 6, 2011

Frederick Frieseke's First Secret

Frederick Carl Frieseke

There's nothing like first-hand information,
and I thought that you might enjoy portions of an interview in 1914 with Frederick Carl Frieseke by writer and painter Clara T. MacChesney:

"One glorious morning I passed through that dilapidated station in Paris, Gare St. Lazare, bound for Giverny. Giverny, long the home of Monet, MacMonnies, and the object of my journey, Frederick Carl Frieseke.

For two hours we sped along the willowed banks of the Seine; we lost it, we found it again: we ran by the woods of Chantilly, past the palace which contains that choice collection owned by the late Duc d'Aumale; through fields made ruddy by the glorious red poppy, and blue by the lovely cornflower, until we saw in the far distance the picturesque church tower of Giverny, which crowns a hill at our right.

Alighting at Vernon, we took a fiacre, and for half an hour wound along the base of a hill, past an irregular line of cottages, until we turned a corner and entered Giverny. Its thatch-roofed white houses straggle down the hill from the church to cultivated fields and farms watered by the lazy little stream, the Epte.

The glistening white road led me past the inn to a high gate set in the corner of a wall. On entering, I found Mr. Frieseke hard at work under a big sketching umbrella, his model posing for him in the garden. With a broad sun hat on the back of his head, palette in hand, he hastened forward to welcome me.

Later in the afternoon, his wife, he and I sat in the shade under the treees, surrounded by rows of lilies and of larkspur, the blue, clear sky of France over our heads, while the artist patiently submitted to my questions.

Under the Umbrella

(currently at the Taft Art Museum's show,
this photo does not do the painting justice)

“But first tell me,” I said, “all about this delightful old house and garden. What a find and what a sanctum in which to work!'

Secret Number One: Create an Environment in Which to Make Paintings

This retreat has high walls on three sides, a two-story cottage on the fourth, while the garden is a riot of flowers, vines, and trees. Here was no telephone to interrupt: no rasping street car, no roar of elevated trains, no shriek of motors to break the calm. Here reigned peace and privacy.

“Yes,” he said quietly, “we have lived here eight years.” Then, looking at his wife with pride: “She made the garden.”

This is a tangle of flowers with a pool in the centre, 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.

“We've remodeled the house, decorated it, and with the garden, it serves as my studio from April to December.” Mr. Frieseke continued. “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. If it rains or is too cold to paint here I take my easel, palette, and model and begin another canvas indoors. I do not like the usual studio light – it is so artificial. I pose my model in a naturally lighted room in an ordinary house. There is nothing like a long, faithful study of nature to lead one away from the artificial, is there?”

“So we are indebted,” I said, “to bad weather for your charming interiors of my lady making up before her dressing mirror, arranging flowers on a table, reading or sewing by a window?" “Yes, that is true. But I never paint inside unless driven in by the weather.”

(The Frieseke's interior; see the colors
mentioned in the description below)

The walls of the Frieseke livingroom are tinted a lemon-yellow; the doors opening into the garden an emerald green. The furniture is covered with flowered cretonne and the window curtains are made of the same material. The kitchen is painted a deep, rich blue, forming a wonderful background for the highly-polished copper pots and kettles. It was easy to infer that all this scheme of color and decoration was intended as a setting for future pictures. I said as much."

So Mr. Frieseke's first secret in this interview is out! He and his wife deliberately spent time creating the backgrounds for his paintings. She planted a lovely garden filled with colorful flowers, curving pathways, and a small pond which is featured in so many of his creations. Then they decorated the interior of their house with colors, materials and furniture that would also appear on his rainy day paintings.

I know a few artists who have done the same. Their backyards are lovely parks...and that is where they have painted plein air at times and have also posed their models for other creations. Another artist couple have given a lot of thought to their interior, decorating it in a way that reflects their artistic sensibilities perfectly. The result is beautiful and unique, and in turn is reflected in their paintings.

So will I follow Frieseke's lead...take the time to think and plan and create both inside and outside spaces - and all on a tight budget - be continued - in which Another Secret is revealed!



  1. Linda, Thanks for the great post. Great inspiration. I am inspired to create my own. I did build my studio and now the gardens surrounding need to be built. Look here:

  2. Oh, my goodness, Andre...Your studio is stunning! I love the old couches and wooden beams. It looks like you've got a great space in the backyard as well. Happy planning and executing!!!