Through the Vines

Frederick C. Frieseke

(Owosso, Michigan, 1874 - 1939, Le Mesnil-sur-Blangy, France)

c. 1908

Oil on canvas

32 in. x 32 in. (81.28 cm x 81.28 cm)

Gift of Mr. S. G. Carkhuff


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This painting depicts the artist’s wife, Sarah (nicknamed Sadie), in a boat on the river Epte near Giverny, France. Sadie was also a painter and often chose props for her husband’s compositions and posed as his model. The Friesekes were part of a large group of American artists living in Giverny at the beginning of the twentieth century, drawn by the presence of the famed French Impressionist Claude Monet. Frieseke occasionally depicted interior scenes with richly patterned fabrics and wallpaper, but preferred to paint his female models outdoors. Though Through the Vines is an outdoor scene, Frieseke creates an intimate space around his subject by framing her with dangling foliage, which compresses the space within the picture.


Frederick C. Frieseke Through the Vines, around 1908 Collection of the Akron Art Museum The little river Epte runs through Giverny, stroking the underside of Monet's water lilies. In 1908 the river still supported enough fish enough to tempt Monet's neighbor, Frederick Frieseke, to occasionally leave his painting in favor of a less risky activity. Frieseke had visited Giverny earlier and was surely working there in the summer of 1905, when he wrote from the local Hotel Baudy to Sarah O'Bryan in Paris. The artist married O’Bryan in October of that year, and in the summer of 1906 the couple began renting a house near Monet’s. In the months of good weather they, like many among the summer colony of American artists, lived in Giverny. There Frieseke could expand his experiment of working directly from the figure in moving sunlight. Frieseke’s had been the standard painter’s training, prescribing the use of the regulated light that falls into the studio from the north. This exposure was chosen because the shifts in cast shadow were minimized, allowing the student to consider the three-dimensionality of a figure for many daylight hours while, now and then, a passing instructor complained about the harshness of a line, or the weight of a rendered volume. Under the north light, color also tended to remain muted and harmonious, and seldom shocked. By 1903 when Frieseke began painting out of doors, plein-air painting was already a well-established and highly visible tradition in Paris. He knew it well, but even so the change occurring in his work when he took his tools into the world outdoors was like being swept into a revolution. What first stands out when we look at Through the Vines is its vibrant, almost vicious color. Just two years earlier Frieseke had installed the murals of beach scenes he had painted for the Hotel Shelburne in Atlantic City. Although he painted the murals in his Paris studio, their scale—and their purpose as decoration—had finally weaned him from the obedient harmonies fostered by his academic training. In the murals Frieseke experimented with the color of the Fauves and of Edvard Munch and Joaquin Sorolla. The dazzling rush of color threatens but, with Frieseke, can never conquer the accuracy of his line. To paint outdoors is to wrestle with defiantly independent elements, including viscous and expensive materials, the plan of the painting, the changes to that plan caused by the act of painting, the wind, the threat of rain. In addition, the artist’s wife, in a boat, on the river, may at any moment complain that if she doesn’t get out of that costume and to the bakery before noon, lunch is going to be a problem. Or does someone else want to go? Likely enough Lawton Parker or Guy Rose may be on the bank and painting from this frantic idyll at the same time. Meanwhile, at 11:03:17 A.M., the painter, holding the canvas steady with one hand, has just caught sight of the transparent double discs of red light cast by the sun through the parasol onto the model’s cheek and chin—and he must have them. At 11:03:18 A.M. they will exist no longer. Their color and shape are as precious and fugitive as the illuminations on the skin of the neck, which are a different color since they have not passed through the parasol. Everyone and everything here is working. If the image presented should be read as one of leisure, the viewer might do well to remember the old show biz line, “Never let ‘em see you sweat.” - Nicholas Kilmer, 2001 Frederick Carl Frieseke: The Evolution of an American Impressionist. With essays by Nicholas Kilmer, Virginia M. Mecklenburg, David Sellin, and H. Barbara Weinberg. Savannah, Ga.: Telfair Museum of Art, 2001. Gerdts, William H. Monet's Giverny, an Impressionist Colony. New York: Abbeville, 1993. Sellin, David. Americans in Brittany and Normandy, 1860–1910. Phoenix: Phoenix Art Museum, 1982. Weber, Bruce. The Giverny Luminists: Frieseke, Miller and Their Circle. New York: Berry-Hill Galleries, 1995.


Signed recto LL "F. C. Frieseke"