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Frederick Carl Frieseke

(b.1874, Owosso, MI; d.1939, [Normandy], France)

The Bird Cage, ca.1910

Oil on canvas

John Butler Talcott Fund


Frederick C. Frieseke (1874-1939)
The Bird Cage, ca. 1910

The Bird Cage, a colorful scene of a woman placing a bird cage on a sunlit balcony, is absolutely characteristic of the colorful scenes for which Frederick Frieseke is best known. Painted in Giverny, France, the artist colony in which Frieseke spent more than fifteen summers, the painting is a brilliant exercise in color and pattern. What has drawn the painter's eye in this scene is the boldness of the color—the deep blue of the model's dress against the powerful yellow-orange of the foliage. Within this dazzle of color and the anomalous planes of fabric and foliage, the strength and volume of the model's body are inferred, while the viewer's eye is led to the tender details of sun spots, a captive bird, and the transparent crimson of the fingers on the left hand as it touches the top of the hanging cage.

By 1910, when The Bird Cage was painted, Frieseke was already the acknowledged leader of the American expatriate painters who summered in the Giverny colony. His favorite theme was the female figure outdoors, nude or in costume. While at first Frieseke experienced some difficulties in painting outdoors—not the least of which are the racing changes in the subject as the sun moves, The Bird Cage demonstrates his absolute confidence in approaching plein-air subjects. The drawing is graceful and accurate; the shimmering scrim of turning leaves is vivid and convincing.

When weather permitted, Frieseke painted on the bank of the small river Epte or in the garden of the house he had rented next to that of the distinguished elderly painter Claude Monet. Often Sarah, his wife, posed for him, wearing one of the old costumes they selected together in the Paris flea markets. The woman in The Bird Cage is probably Jeanne, a professional model who came out from Paris to work for Frieseke and for other artists. The mores of Giverny would not have allowed for a woman from the village to model nude—that being a sophisticated urban phenomenon. Even the narrative suggestion of the exposed shoulder of this model—whatever the design intention of the artist—proposes a degree of intimacy that, in 1910, hinted at the nude.

Born in Owosso, Michigan, to a family of recent German immigrants, Frieseke attended the Art Institute of Chicago and New York's Art Students League before embarking for Paris in 1897. He studied at the Académie Julian and briefly with Whistler at the Académie Carmen. In 1899 he began to exhibit at the Salon of the Société Nationale in Paris, after which his work was received with acclaim both in Europe and at major exhibitions in the United States. Although he visited the United States occasionally (for the last time in 1928), France became Frieseke's permanent home. He married Sarah O'Bryan of Philadelphia in 1905, and Frances, their only child, was born in Paris in 1914.

Frieseke was particularly known for brilliant garden scenes and for images of women in interiors. Toward the end of his career, these subjects took on a more monumental and somber air. In 1920 the Friesekes purchased a farm in Mesnil-sur-blangy, Normandy, where Frieseke died in 1939.

For further reading:

Moussa Domit, Frederick Frieseke 1874-1939: A Retrospective (Savannah, Ga.: Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1974)
William H. Gerdts, Monet's Giverny: An Impressionist Colony (New York: Abbeville Press, 1993)


This essay has been condensed from a larger manuscript written for the museum's collection catalogue.

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