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 Arnold Friberg  (1913 - 2010)

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Lived/Active: Utah/Arizona/Illinois      Known for: genre-historical-religious and figure painting-mounties

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Ad Code: 2
Arnold Friberg
from Auction House Records.
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following obituary is from The New York Times July 2, 2010.

by Douglas Martin

Arnold Friberg, a widely popular artist of historical and religious scenes whose painstaking quest for stunning realism led him to Valley Forge, Pa., on a winter’s day to paint what became a famous portrait of George Washington praying in the snow, died Thursday in Salt Lake City. He was 96.

The cause was complications of hip surgery, his daughter-in-law Jayna Friberg-Cleamons said.

Mr. Friberg (pronounced FREE-berg) was probably best known for the The Prayer at Valley Forge, which depicts Washington kneeling beside his horse while his army winters at Valley Forge.  To ensure utter accuracy, he went to the Smithsonian Institution  to study Washington’s actual uniform.

And when it came time to paint, he stood on the banks of the Schuylkill River in the bitter cold near the spot where he imagined Washington kneeled. He removed his gloves.

“It was deserted, the wind moaning through the great trees, silent, lonely, cold,” he later recalled.

“It was a cold that chilled to the bone,” he continued, “a cold that froze my fingers until I could no longer sketch nor even snap my camera.”

The painting, which has been valued at more than $12 million, is currently on display at Mount Vernon, Washington’s home in Virginia.

Mr. Friberg’s other works include about 300 paintings of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police   that so impressed the Mounties they made him an honorary member.  His skill in depicting people and horses prompted the British royal family to summon him to Buckingham Palace to paint separate pictures of Prince Charles and Queen Elizabeth II with the queen’s horse, "Centennial".

His series of paintings of events in the Book of Mormon, the sacred text of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has been reproduced millions of times.  His other works have ranged from depictions of the great eras of college football to large pictures of Western saloons, commissioned for a Las Vegas casino.  He collected and copied antique wallpaper for the saloon pictures, one of which shows men on horseback shooting pool.

A high point for Mr. Friberg was his being selected by the legendary director Cecil B. DeMille  to create 15 historical paintings to serve as models for scenes, props and costumes for the movie spectacle The Ten Commandments.  DeMille sent the pictures around the world as publicity for the film.  In an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune in 2006, Mr. Friberg said he chose the colors of Moses’ robe: red with black and white stripes to contrast with the Egyptians’ light-colored garb.

Arnold Friberg was born on Dec. 21, 1913, in Winnetka, Ill., where his Swedish father and Norwegian mother had immigrated three years before he was born. When he was 3 the family moved to Arizona, where they converted to Mormonism.  By age 13, he was earning a living as an apprentice to a sign painter.

After attending the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, he moved to New York, where he studied at the Grand Central School of Art, worked for advertising agencies and painted covers for The Saturday Evening Post and other magazines.

He was drafted into the Army during World War II and was asked to work as an artist with the rank of captain.  Instead he chose to go into the infantry as an enlisted man.  He served in Europe and in the Pacific.

Mr. Friberg’s first wife, the former Hedve Mae Baxter, died in 1986. He is survived by his wife, the former Heidi Miller Grosskopf; his sons, Frank Friberg and Peter and Izzie Dominy; his daughter, Pat Friberg; 10 grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren.

Mr. Friberg never bridled at being called an illustrator, saying his audience was “the guy down the street.”  His goal, he said, was to tell stories.

It worked for Joanna Brooks, a writer known for her commentary on Mormonism. On the Web site Religious Dispatches (,  she wrote on Friday, “In my head, God is colored by Arnold Friberg.”

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
An illustrator and western painter, Arnold Friberg was born in Winnetka, Illinois.  He did a series of widely exhibited monumental paintings called the "Ten Commandment Series", which toured every continent from 1957 to 1958.  These works were based on the Cecil B DeMille movie of the same name.  He also did paintings depicting the Book of Mormon, 100 Years of Football, The Sports Association Collection and The Northwest Mounted Police.

In 1916, when Friberg was three years old, he moved to Arizona with his family, and his future career took its first turn when he was ten and had a correspondence course in cartooning and advice from Fred Smith, cartoonist for The Arizona Republican.  At age 17, he went to Chicago, and from there received the commission for a calendar art series on the Northwest Mounted Police.

In 1971, he became a painter of western subjects, which he regarded as a logical extension of illustration.  Of this subject matter and style, he said: "Most of the best American painters did at least some illustrative work.  Edwin Abbey, Winslow Homer, John Sloan, Frederic Remington, for example.  They developed into painters but their training was in the illustrative world that makes you observe.  For myself, I have no purpose but to tell a story."

Peggy and Harold Samuels, Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West

Biography from Altermann Galleries and Auctioneers, I:
A painter of western people and horses, Arnold Friberg was born in Winnetka, Illinois in 1913, and has been living in Holiday, Utah since 1949.

According to Friberg: “I fill up my pictures with man and animal, and with just enough landscape to identify the setting.  My natural way is to put figures all the way to the edges, to fill the canvas.  The challenge is to put a lot into a painting without letting it get junky.”

Raised in Phoenix, Friberg started cartooning at eight and was enrolled in an art instruction correspondence course at ten.  He worked as a sign painter’s apprentice, “making a man’s living” while in high school, and then borrowed $500 in 1931 to study at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts and later in New York City with Harvey Dunn.

He was an illustrator in Chicago in 1937 when the Northwest Paper Company commissioned a series on the Royal Canadian Mounted Police that lasted for 35 years. The job required painting horses, and Friberg recalls that “I learned them fast.”

“To me, the picturing of horses is next to worship.  I am awed by how a hock joint is put together. I marvel, not only at the anatomy of animals, but also at the anatomy of trees, the whole thing, the design and engineering of it.”

He served in the Army in World War II, remained in San Francisco as an illustrator, and in 1949 was hired by the University of Utah to found a commercial art department. In serving his Mormon Church, he became known as “The Painter of Scripture,” and was chief artist for the movie “The Ten Commandments.”

He has been featured in Artists of the Rockies, spring 1977, and in Southwest Art, December 1981.

Contemporary Western Artists, by Peggy and Harold Samuels,1982, Judd’s Inc., Washington, D.C.

Biography from Tweed Museum of Art:
Artist Arnold Friberg graduated from the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts in 1935.  In 1953, Cecil B. DeMille, after searching worldwide for a powerful Biblical artist, was shown Friberg's religious series then in progress.  In 1957-58, Friberg's monumental 15 paintings series for The Ten Commandments toured the world, and was part of DeMille's exhibit honoring the 100th year of Hollywood, an exhibit seen by more than one-million viewers.

In 1958, Arnold Friberg was made a life-time member by Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, of the Royal Society of Arts (RSA), London, in recognition of his contribution to mankind through his work.

Over a period of 42 years (1937-79), Friberg painted close to 300 representative "Mountie" images for the Northwest Paper Company.  In 1978, the Friends of the Force, an affiliation of the R.C.M.P., commissioned Arnold Friberg to paint a life-size portrait of HRH Prince Charles with the splendid royal mount Centennial. The Friends of the Force were so pleased, they commissioned Mr. Friberg to paint a large royal equestrian portrait of HRM Queen Elizabeth II mounted on Centennial, in the palace garden at Buckingham.

Other works of Arnold Friberg include:  A series of 12 religious paintings commissioned by Mrs. Adele Cannon Howells; a 1969 series for General Motors depicting 100 years of American intercollegiate football; and a great number of highly prized historical paintings of the old American west.  One favorite Friberg painting is the large, superb, The Prayer at Valley Forge, commissioned for the 1976 Bicentennial celebration.

Arnold Friberg has been honored by his fellow artists and has been given tribute in western heritage art shows, most recently in 1991.  Arnold Friberg has rightly earned his place as one of the enduring masters of our time.

The son of Scandinavian immigrants born in Winnetka, Illinois in 1913, Arnold Friberg moved with his family to Phoenix, Arizona in 1916.  He is the only one of the sixteen Mountie artists still living.  After graduating from high school, during which he earned money painting signs for local businesses, Friberg began formal art studies at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, where he first connected with the Mountie ad campaign of the Northwest Paper Company.  Moving to New York City in 1940 to work in the publishing industry, Friberg enrolled in night classes at the Grand Central School of Art, where he studied under Harvey Dunn, one of the country's top illustrators.

Friberg served with the 86th Infantry Division during WW II, where he was assigned to map making and traning aid production.  After the war, he opened a studio in San Francisco, and built his reputation as an illustrator by producing everything from package design to fashion illustration.

By 1950 Friberg and his wife had moved to Utah, where he taught commercial art at the University of Utah.  At nearly ninety years old, he still resides there. (2003) In the 1950s, two major commissions brought Friberg world-wide attention.  The first was a commission to paint a series of twelve paintings illustrating the Book of Mormon.  The second, for which he won an Academy Award nomination, was as chief artist and designer for Cecil B. DeMille's 1957 film The Ten Commandments.

Arnold Friberg was to become the most prolific the most well-known of all the Mountie artists.  He spent great amounts of time researching the RCMP and their gear, First Nations Canadians, and the landscape of Western Canada.  Because his paintings so well reflected the qualities they wanted to be known for, he is he only American ever made an honorary member of the RCMP. Besides their high degrees of detail, technical proficiency and finish, Friberg's Mountie paintings are imbued with great drama and poignancy, picturing the RCMP officer in every aspect of his wide-ranging duties.

Because of his work with the Mounties and their horses, in 1978 Friberg was commissioned to paint near life-size equestrian portraits of H.R.H. Prince Charles and Queen Elizabeth II, with the great horse "Centennial." For these works, and in recognition of his lifetime of achievement in painting, Friberg was made a life member of the Royal Society of Arts, London.

Arnold Friberg describes himself as a storyteller. "That's all I've ever wanted to do, that's why I went into illustrating. ....I want my art to be perfectly understood. One of the things I work for is clarity.  That doesn't mean hard-edged forms, but clarity of the picture -- what time of day, what kind of lighting, where it is.  It should all be clear.  I hope no one ever has to explain my pictures."

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