My Evening with the Late Arnold Friberg

Arnold Friberg (American, December 21, 1913 – July 1, 2010)

Many obituaries have been written since his death four days ago. Rather than repeat the long lists of accomplishments printed in numerous obituaries (NY Times, for example), I'd like to share a personal experience I had with Arnold Friberg five years ago, when he was 91.

My wife and I were invited to have dinner with Arnold and his wife, Heidi, at their home. Heidi cooked. Afterwards, we sat, talked about art, and walked through Arnold's studio. For a man of any age–let alone 91–Arnold was full of energy. He hopped out of his seat to punctuate a passionate thought about Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres (French, 1780-1867), whom he felt had been unfairly treated by historical memory. (How appropriate it was when Susan Siegfried's bookIngres: Painting Reimagined was delivered to my house the same day Friberg died.)

As we toured his studio, Friberg lifted an original oil painting he had done for a Christmas edition of the Saturday Evening Post. "Unlike my colleagues," he said "I painted a perfect reindeer."

"I would look for the perfect antlers on one reindeer, the perfect eyes from another, nose from another; and, then, I combined them. Other artists don't do that."

Perhaps knowingly, perhaps not, Friberg's self-described "perfectionism" was, in practice, akin to the Ideal reached for by Ingres. Friberg was tirelessly detailed. His work often featured elaborate script applied by hand without the use of stencils. Even at his advanced age, Friberg could be found working in his studio, touching and re-touching works, which, in his mind, could always be improved.

We spent several hours looking through his catalogue of works. Any artist would be satisfied to have so many memorable and widely-reproduced works. Yet, Friberg had an air of anxious energy. "I'm happiest when working," he told me.

Wherever he is now, I'm sure that Arnold Friberg will not sit back and enjoy what will surely be a growing reputation. He is probably sorting through cherubs, looking for which one has the best wings, eyes, lips, etc.