Painter. His decorative images of composed and pleasant women or languorous nude models earned an international reputation, as well as immense popularity in the United States. Rendered in a modified impressionist style, most picture attractive, middle-class women in flower-filled gardens or richly furnished homes. Usually posed outdoors, the nudes typically enjoy a dappled play of sunlight caressing their bodies. An expatriate throughout his professional life, Frieseke produced most of these signature canvases at Giverny, his principal residence at the height of his career. Born in the central Michigan city of Owosso, Frieseke began his professional training at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Art Students League. From 1898 on, France remained his home, although he visited the United States on a number of occasions. In Paris he studied at the Académie Julian, but James Abbott McNeill Whistler provided the most important stimulus to his early development. Following his example, for several years Frieseke focused on delicate figural works set in spare interiors. During this time, he began to visit Giverny during summers. After 1906, when he began spending most of each year there, his painting style featured impressionism's bright colors, strong illumination, and vigorous brushwork as epitomized in the work of Monet, the village's most prominent artist-resident. Although the two lived in close proximity, Frieske had only limited personal contact with the French master. While he learned from Monet's style, Frieseke's individual approach owes more to Renoir's ample nudes and to aspects of postimpressionism, particularly the ornamental domesticity evident in the work of Pierre Bonnard and Édouard Vuillard. In The Garden Parasol (North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, 1910), a huge umbrella, set aslant over an outdoor tea table, provides a warm-toned foil to the greens of the background hedge and the cool whites delineating a surface pattern of furniture, tablecloth, silver tea set, and the frocks of its two models. The parasol's Japanese design of stylized birds and flowers emphasizes the painting's central concern with the beauties of nature and artifice, melded by the play of sunlight. The summer of 1919 proved Frieseke's last in Giverny. Subsequently, he resided in rural Normandy east of Rouen, at Le Mesnil-sur-Blangy, where he died. There, his work became simpler and less decorative, usually confined to interior scenes. Like many European artists between the world wars, he often engaged a more ordered and classically inflected form of expression. This work did not sustain his popular reputation, however, and it remains relatively little known.
In Giverny, Frieseke ranked as the most accomplished exponent of a late-impressionist mode practiced among like-minded Americans who lived there for varying lengths of time during the same years. Identified as the Giverny group as early as 1910, Frieseke and his circle concentrated on comfortable scenes of family life at home and in the garden, rendered in a style indebted primarily to impressionism but also accommodating postimpressionist stylization. The subjects they preferred almost exclusively reflected their expatriate lifestyle. Unlike the first American impressionists who had arrived there in the late 1880s, the Giverny group virtually ignored the village, its French inhabitants, and the local landscape, the very features that had charmed such artists as John Leslie Breck, Lila Cabot Perry, and Theodore Robinson. Like Frieske, most of the Giverny group came from the Midwest, and several studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Richard Miller (1875–1943) came closest to rivaling Frieseke's accomplishment, although Miller's execution generally displayed a harder edge. Born in St. Louis, where he began his training, he studied at the Art Institute before meeting Frieseke at the Académie Julian. After some twenty years abroad, he returned to the United States following the outbreak of World War I and in 1918 settled permanently in Provincetown. To a greater extent than others in the group, Frieseke's particularly good friend Lawton Parker (1868–1954) shared his interest in painting the nude. A Chicagoan, he studied at the Art Institute. He, too, departed for the United States when World War I erupted but returned to France about ten years later. He remained through World War II, losing many of his paintings, but thereafter resided in Santa Monica, California, where he died. Born in Lithuania and taken by his family to Chicago around 1900, Louis Ritman (1889–1963) spent nearly every summer from 1910 until 1928 at Giverny, probably more seasons than any other artist in the informal community. Later, he taught for many years in Chicago at the Art Institute, where he had begun his studies. Among others associated with the group, the most accomplished include Karl Anderson (1874–1956), George Biddle, Karl Albert Buehr (1866–1952), Edmund W. Greacen (1877–1949), and Guy Rose (1867–1925).