A Writer’s View: The Garden Parasol


Frederick Carl Frieseke, The Garden Parasol, 1910, Oil on canvas, Purchased with funds from the State of North Carolina, 73.1.4

Growing up in a country town in the thirties and forties, I first knew about art from reproductions of the “old masters.” But when it came to “modern art,” as we called it, it was the Impressionists who came to mind. They had crossed to us so easily: Monet, Manet, and Renoir. Also we would have added Degas, C├ęzanne, and Van Gogh, not knowing they were not of the strict Impressionist stamp. For all were French, or painting there, and France to us in those youthful days was the place of modern art, just as Italy and Holland meant the classical stuff.

So it is interesting that I could not tell in the Frieseke picture whether not only the painter but also the scene was American or French. It was open air, and Americans like that, a sense of freedom. It was sunlit, and we like that too. In addition, everything-from the gorgeous parasol spread wide to the open book, the relaxed posture of the seated lady who holds it, the tea set on the little garden table-speaks of generosity. “Come on out,” she seems about to say. “Join us.” There are two empty chairs. The flowering border behind might well be in New England, the thick foliage a shady backdrop for a delightful summer day. But let it then join the French and their kind of pleinairist painting, beckoning to us on happy afternoons: “Bienvenue! Vous aussi pouvez venir!”

–From Elizabeth Spencer’s essay “The Garden Parasol” in The Store of Joys (available in the Museum’s Art Reference Library and the Museum Store). Frieseke’s The Garden Parasol is currently on view in the exhibition Highlights from the American Collection.

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