Estelle Condit (Suzy) Frelinghuysen was born in 1911 in Newark, New Jersey to a prominent family. She was the granddaughter of Frederick T. Frelinghuysen, Secretary of State under President Chester A. Arthur, and the grand-niece of Theodore Frelinghuysen, a US Senator of New Jersey and Second Chancellor for New York University. Suzy was a nickname her four older brothers gave her at an early age and was the name she always preferred. Frelinghuysen had a very privileged upbringing, being raised at the Frelinghuysen estate— Oakhurst, in Elberon, New Jersey up until 1924, when her father died. After his death the family moved to Princeton, New Jersey where she attended the elite institution— Miss Fine’s School in Princeton, while all of her brothers attended Princeton University.
From an early age, Frelinghuysen was exposed to the two creative passions that would continue through her entire life— a love for Opera and a love for art. Though she had no formal artistic training, she was exposed at an early age by her parents to the great art of Europe through periodical visits to Paris and other cities. Frelinghuysen even remembered the first time she saw the Opera, Tosca which prompted her to take vocal lessons at an early age.
Eventually Frelinghuysen decided to move to New York City to pursue a career as an Opera singer. This is where she met her husband, the equally prestigious art critic and collector George L.K. Morris. The two were married on January 30th 1935 in a small ceremony held at the East 72nd Street home of Frelinghuysen’s Aunt, Mrs. Campbell Clark. Even during the height of the Great Depression, while other artists were struggling to survive and working for government programs like the WPA/FAP, the newlywed couple was virtually unaffected. The two actually owned two residences at this time; a Penthouse in New York City and a modernist home in the woods of the Berkshire Mountains in Lenox, Massachusetts. The estate in Massachusetts is now a museum that houses much of the private collection of both Morris and Frelinghuysen.
Shortly after the two were married, Suzy began showing serious interest in painting. Morris was exposed firsthand to all the great European abstract artists, primarily through his friend and mentor A.E. Galletin. Galletin set Morris up to study with Fernand Leger in Paris for two years, and the two also visited the personal studios of other famous artists, such as Picasso, Braque, Delaunay and Mondrian. Once Morris came back to the US, he became a very prominent figure in the New York art world as both a modern cubist art collector and an advocate for American Cubist artists. Morris encouraged Frelinghuysen to work in an abstract style and he exposed her to all the cubist of masters of Europe, just as Galletin had done for him. Frelinghuysen’s earliest dated paintings are from around this time, including Papier Colle of 1935, a collage and mixed media piece in the cubist style.
In April of 1937, Suzy joined the American Abstract Artists (AAA), an association that Morris had been a founding member of and which was a reactionary organization that was concerned with the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney’s complete disregard for featuring American Abstract Artists in their collections, focusing only on American Scene Artists. Though Morris was an active organizer in the association, Frelinghuysen did not care to participate in the group actively, and instead, she preferred to socialize with the artists and exhibit at the AAA’s annual exhibitions (which she continued to exhibit in for many years, including the 50th Anniversary Exhibition in 1986). The same year that she joined the AAA, Suzy began showing at the Paul Reinhardt Galleries in group exhibitions alongside her husband and her friends A.E. Gallatin and Charles G. Shaw. The group soon became known as the Park Avenue Cubists because of their affluent economic backgrounds and social connections. Of the four, Suzy was the youngest and the only female in the group, as friend and fellow artist Esphyr Slobodkina remembered upon meeting her for the first time, “… Suzy, whose main interest centered around opera singing, was also quite an accomplished and very forceful painter…I liked her for her deep, throaty voice, and the unexpected, obviously sincere bursts of raucous, baritone laughter… Suzy was the baby of the group, a position she obviously enjoyed”.
The period from 1938 to 1946 was the most successful period of her painting career, but at the same time she continued to pursue the stage career she had moved to New York for in the first place. Her painting Carmen of 1937 was not only her first piece to enter into a museum, but it was also the first contemporary piece done by a woman artist to enter Gallatin’s Museum of Living Art’s. During this time she also began intensely studying the works of Picasso, Braque and Gris. The year 1940 was an extremely busy time for Frelinghuysen. While continuing to exhibit with the AAA annually, her works were also included in a touring exhibition of the Park Avenue Cubists, which traveled to Chicago, San Francisco, and Honolulu, as well as a show curated by Peggy Guggenheim that was centered on 31 contemporary women artists. Then in 1945, with a lot of help from Gallatin advocating on her behalf, Suzy’s work was included in a major exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, in the show Eight by Eight: American Abstract Painting since 1940. This show was very successful, and Frelinghuysen’s piece received critical acclaim. Gallatin had also begun planning a solo exhibition for her to be held at his Museum of Living Art, but unfortunately, the establishment had to close before the show could open.
The year 1947 can be noted as the end of her public career in painting, and the beginning of her true calling— the opera. Frelinghuysen starred as Ariadne in Ariadne auf Naxos, which opened October 9, 1947. For her stage career, she took her married name, Suzy Morris and began a short but critically successful career. Her voice was characterized as “Sumptuous dramatic soprano” and that she was a “Prima donna worthy of any opera house”. The next season, in 1948, Suzy was featured as the title in the opera Tosca, the same play she had seen as a little girl that inspired her drive to become a singer. Unfortunately, this period of success was also emotionally trying on the couple’s marriage. Suzy was living at the penthouse in New York and Morris was staying in the modernist house in Lenox. Suzy would often call Morris with anxiety attacks, as “Morris [later] wrote of his wife’s need for support ‘She must always feel she is being backed up when the inevitable worst arrives.’ And his inability to resolve the emotional extremes to which she subjected him. ‘Certainly no one would believe anyone who seems so decided in character could be so incapable of dealing with even the most picayune problems.’” Suzy continued though, and performed with the city opera until 1951.
Even though her public career as a singer and a painter was over by 1951, Suzy continued to paint for herself up until her death in 1988 at the age of 76. To her, painting had never really been a public thing after all. She never actively sought to exhibit her work; her talent and social connections were enough to do that on their own. And her socialite image often contradicts the popular image of an angst-ridden artist. Suzy’s love for both singing and painting were based on a private joy she got from them. As Suzy Frelinghuysen said, “I don’t understand why some people are surprised if you paint, act, and sing. I do these things because I have fun doing them.”
AN ANALYSIS OF THE ARTIST'S WORK
Suzy Frelinghuysen’s abstract style was greatly influenced by her husband George L. K. Morris, yet she had her own variations to the formulaic cubism that Morris advocated. Many of Frelinghuysen’s pieces are mixed media and include paints, cardboard, scraps of music sheets, and wrapping paper. Stylistically, her early cubist pieces can be characterized as “reductive, clean and streamlined,” using large clean cubist elements to create her pieces.
Frelinghuysen would rarely start any kind of preparatory sketch for her paintings, preferring to let the canvas develop as she painted. She continued to paint in a cubist style into her later years, but ever so slightly let her canvases become freer in brush stroke and composition. It wasn’t until Morris’ death in 1975 that she began to fully venture into an abstract expressionist style. Her later paintings relied completely on spontaneity and freedom, rather than cubist technique.
AWARDS & AFFILIATIONS
1937 American Abstract Artists- Member
1940 Joined the Federation of Modern Painters and Sculptors- Establishing Member
1947 New York City Opera Company
COLLECTIONS (SELECTED LIST)
Carnegie Art Institute
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Museum of Living Art
Philadelphia Museum of Art
1911 Born Estelle Condit Frelinghuysen in Newark, New Jersey. Raised at Family Estate in Elberon, New Jersey
1924 Moved to Princeton, New Jersey after her father died
1931 Presented at the Court of St. James Debutant ball
1935 Announcement of engagement
1931 Mother died
1935 Married artist George L.K. Morris. Begins to study cubist painting
1935 Earliest dated painting Papier Colle is completed
1937 Joins American Abstract Artists (AAA)
1937 Begins showing annually with AAA
1937 Exhibits with Park Avenue Cubists
1938-1946 Intensely studies the works of Picasso, Barque and Gris
1938 Gallatin acquired her collage Carmen 1937 for his Museum of Living Art: first work in collection by a woman artist
1940 Joined the Federation of Modern Painters and Sculptors at its establishment
1940 Show of the Park Avenue Cubists travel to Chicago, San Francisco and Honolulu
1940 Included in an exhibition curated by Peggy Guggenheim featuring the art of 31 contemporary women artists
1944 Annual at the Whitney Museum of American Art
1947-1951 Joins the New York City opera company
1947 Casted as Ariadne in Ariadne auf Naxos. Took stage name as Suzy Morris
1948 Spring season finale featured her in title role of Tosca. Continues Painting for personal reasons
1975 Morris dies
1986 AAA 50th Anniversary Exhibition
1988 Suzy Frelinghuysen dies at age 76
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2. Balken, Debra Bricker and Robert S. Lubar, The Park Avenue Cubists : Gallatin, Morris, Frelinghuysen, and Shaw, New York: Grey Art Gallery, New York University, c. 2002.
3. Balken, Debra Bricker, Suzy Frelinghuysen & George L.K. Morris : American Abstract Artists : Aspects of Their Work & Collection, Williamstown, MA: Williams College Museum of Art, c. 1992.
4. Frelinghuysen, Kinney and Barbara Dayer Gallati, Suzy Frelinghuysen (1911-1988) : Paintings, New York :Salander O’Reilly Galleries, c. 1997.
5. Frelinghuysen, Kinney and Barbara Dayer Gallati, “Suzy Frelinghuysen,” Woman's Art Journal, Vol. 19, No. 1. (Spring - Summer, 1998), pp. 57-58. http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0270-7993%28199821%2F22%2919%3A1%3C57%3ASF%3E2.0.CO%3B2-E
6. Frelinghuysen Morris House and Studio Webpage, Lenox, MA: Frelinghuysen Morris Foundation, 2006, accessed 11/19/2007, http://frelinghuysen.org/fmf//.
7. Johnson, Ken, “Report from Williamstown: The Way They Were - George L.K. Morris, Suzy Frelinghuysen, Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, Massachusetts,” Art in America, Feb. 1993, accessed 11/19/2007, http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1248/is_n2_v81/ai_13402083.
8. Kramer, Hiton, “Park Avenue Cubists Gathered Downtown In Delightful Show”, The New York Observer, Jan. 27, 2003.
9. Lane, John R. and Susan C. Larsen, Abstract Painting And Sculpture In America 1927-1944, Pittsburgh, PA: Carnegie Institute. Museum Of Art, 1983.
10. Mattick, Paul Jr., “Suzy Frelinghuysen at Salander-O’Reilly- New York, New York,” Art in America, Nov. 1997, accessed11/19/2007, http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1248/is_n11_v85/ai_19997868
11. New Jersey Women’s History Project Webpage, The Women's Project of New Jersey, Inc., NJ: 2002, accessed 11/19/2007 2002, http://www.scc.rutgers.edu/njwomenshistory/Period_5/suzy.htm
12. “Suzy Frelinghuysen, Artist, Is Dead at 76, ” New York Times, March 23, 1988, accessed 11/19/2007, http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=940DE4DD123DF930A15750C0A96E948260
13. Hopps, Walter and Betsy Fahlman, American Images: The SBC Collection of Twentieth-Century American Art, New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1996.
EXHIBITIONS (SELECTED LIST)
1986 American Abstract Artists 50th Anniversary Exhibition
1945 Eight by Eight: American Abstract Painting since 1940, Philadelphia Museum of Art
1944 Annual Exhibition, Whitney Museum of American Art
1940 Peggy Guggenheim show: 31 contemporary women artists
1940 Park Avenue Cubist Show: Tours Chicago, San Francisco, Honolulu
1937 Park Avenue Cubist Show at Paul Reinhardt Galleries with Morris, A.E. Gallatin, and Charles G. Shaw
1937-1947 American Abstract Artists Annual Exhibitions