Born in Milwaukee on 27 March, 1874, Frida Gugler claimed the city as her residence until she reached the age of eighty-one. On the other hand, she worked and lived in numerous places throughout the world. The daughter of Julius Gugler (1848-1919), an important Milwaukee poet and head of an important lithography company, she and the other Gugler children achieved recognition in the arts (“Frida Gugler to Send Oils,” 1937). Frida Gugler, determined to become a professional artist, had the good fortune to begin her studies under William Merritt Chase, who taught for one year in neighboring Chicago at the Art Institute (Pisano, 1973, cat. no. 19). Miss Gugler must have profited greatly from Chase’s teaching, and within four years she joined his class at Shinnecock Hills, Long Island, New York. There her progress so pleased the master that he gave her one of his own portrait sketches as a reward.
Frida Gugler became a regularly exhibiting artist in various New York galleries. One of her dealers was the Babcock Galleries. She handled both watercolor and oil in distinctly separate ways, and of the two, her watercolors seem to have been the most praised. Today, on the contrary, it is her landscapes in oil that command a closer look. In them one may appreciate the spontaneity of handling and the vibrant palette or, as one writer stated, “charming color combinations, now ethereal as a golden glimmer seen through fog, or full toned in their positive appeal . . . convey a kind of warmth and glow” (“Praise Is Given Frida Gugler’s Show,” 1929).
During her career, Gugler traveled extensively, and she executed plein air paintings in many parts of Europe. In America she visited artists’ colonies such as Gloucester. With a certain Whistlerian note, Gugler’s observation excluded unnecessary detail in order to heighten the essential features of the scene. The artist refused to align herself with a particular artistic movement or the “hack made laws of any school” (“Praise Is Given Frida Gugler’s Show,” 1929). As a result however, one notes a certain lack of stylistic continuity in works beginning in the late 1930s. Occasionally she would rework older pictures, and her technique seemed to decline in later years. On 19 March 1966 she died at the age of ninety-two. It would be interesting to know if Gugler knew Emily Groom, another Milwaukee woman painter who lived into her nineties.
“Praise Is Given Frida Gugler’s Show in Gotham,” Milwaukee Journal, 13 January 1929; “Frida Gugler to Send Oils to Art Institute,” Milwaukee Journal, 24 January 1937; Pisano, Ronald G., The Students of William Merritt Chase, Huntington, NY: Heckscher Museum, 1973, p. 16; Merrill, Peter, German-American Artists in Early Milwaukee. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin, 1997, p. 34.
Information submitted by Michael Preston Worley, Ph.D.