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'Lady in Pink', 1902, by Frederick Carl Frieseke (1874-1939)


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About the artwork

Frederick Carl Frieseke was an American artist of German parentage. He worked in France for most of his career, firstly in Paris and then in the artists' colony of Giverny. This Normandy village had been adopted by the French Impressionist painter Monet, whose style Frieseke later favoured. Frieseke had begun his artistic studies in Chicago and New York in 1893-7.

He set off for Paris in September 1897 to further his training in one of the major artists' teaching studios, the Académie Julian. The Académie provided models for its students to work from. Notable visiting artists would also advise and offer criticism of their work. His fellow American, the controversial and dandyish James McNeil Whistler, briefly tutored Frieseke. Whistler's preferred teaching method was to correct a student's work with the tip of his gloved fingers, whilst wearing full evening dress. He would exchange his soiled gloves for new ones as he progressed around the room. Frieseke later claimed that it was Whistler who persuaded him to change from his preferred medium, watercolours, and take up oils instead.

The sketchy painting technique used in 'Lady in Pink' shows evidence of it having been created shortly after this switch of technique, when Frieseke was still learning to paint fluently in oils. It shows a student's tentativeness and hesitation in front of a model. The paints have been thinly washed over a cheap cardboard support often used by students for sketching. In some places these watercolour-like washes are very thin. The bare-ground of the cardboard shows through providing a buff-brown mid-tone to the silvery-greys, pinks, pastel-blues and green shades of the composition. These subtle colour harmonies owe a lot to Whistler's own work. So does the inclusion of a colour note in the title - 'Lady in Pink'.

The Walker's picture was painted in Paris in 1902, as Frieseke's inscription, in the lower left corner, indicates. It was almost certainly painted in his bed-sitter cum studio in the inner-city district of Montparnasse, south of the River Seine. Before 1914 Montparnasse was known for providing cheap studios and lodgings for poor foreign artists. A photograph of Frieseke taken, in about 1901, in his studio at 51 boulevard Saint-Jacques, shows a similar low divan or sofa, covered in an embroidered throw and cushions and partly draped in a Stars and Stripes flag. Frieseke's studio was on the top floor above a soda-water factory, near Montparnasse cemetery. The building was known for its unsanitary conditions and bad drainage. He described his studio in 1901 as 'getting almost unbearable. They have put in more machinery below, increased their plant generally & it makes things very disagreeable. … At the present writing the place is full of smoke and a smell of burnt rubber.'

It is difficult to believe that such an elegant picture as 'Lady in Pink' could have been created in such unpleasant conditions.

By 1900 Frieseke had met the young American woman who was to become his wife in 1905, Sarah Anne O'Bryan, known as Sadie. She was the tall, stylish daughter of a wealthy Catholic Pittsburgh lawyer. Her father (until his sudden death in1904) thwarted any engagement between his musically and artistically accomplished daughter and the penniless Frieseke. Sadie and her family lived not far from Frieseke's studio flat. In February 1901 they went back to the States, not returning to Paris until October 1903. The lovers' separation resulted in a series of letters in which Frieseke detailed his struggles as an artist. In the autumn of 1901 he began the first of what was to become a life-long series of studio nudes. He described his model, Hélène, as 'a blonde girl with rather reddish hair.' A succession of letters in January and February 1902 detailed his difficulties in producing paintings with which he was satisfied. At one point he destroyed a picture he had been working on for five weeks. He seems to have employed his model mainly for his studies of the nude or partially clothed female body.

Alongside the nudes he was also working on small interior scenes. These portrayed artist colleagues such as the Australian Hugh Ramsay and his friend Miss Krauss. The Walker's painting of a chic lady, dressed fashionably, holding a fan and wearing a pendant necklace, is perhaps most likely to have been a portrait of one of the friends he relaxed and partied with. In late spring 1902 Frieseke travelled to the States with all the pictures he had painted. He showed eight of his works at the Art Institute of Chicago's annual exhibition. He did not return to Paris until the end of November. He finally managed to escape his unpleasant studio and moved to a new studio-apartment nearby. He shared it with his friend the American artist Alson Clarks and his new wife Medera, who frequently modelled for both painters.

In 1901 Frieseke had been made an associate of the Société Nationale des Beaux Arts. Artists such as Whistler, Matisse and Singer Sargent also exhibited there. It was probably at the Société's Salon in 1903 that Frieseke showed the Walker's 'Lady in Pink', as 'Femme en Rose'. He was on the brink of experiencing artistic and financial success. In 1904 the French government purchased one of his nudes for the Luxembourg Museum in Paris. He had also attracted the attention of the American department-store magnate, John Wannamaker. He guaranteed to support Frieseke by purchasing a number of his paintings for $2,500 a year. This arrangement continued until 1917.

From 1905 Frieseke began to spend extended summers at Giverny. Here he changed his style, adopting the Impressionist's broken brush-work and vibrant palette of high-keyed contrasting colours. Women always remained a favourite subject of Frieseke's, whether clothed or nude, seated pensively in domestic interiors or relaxing in sunlit gardens. An important part of his style was a strong sense of surface patterning in which the figure was absorbed into the landscape and dress pattern merged, under dappled light, into floral background. In the Walker's 'Lady in Pink' Frieseke had already begun tentatively to interlock figure, furniture and textile. In this his work complemented that of one of the leading Post Impressionist artists at work in Paris, Edouard Vuillard (1868-1940). His portrait of 'Madame Hessel on a Sofa', painted around the same date as Frieseke's, hangs close by in the Walker.