I was saddened to learn of the passing of Arnold Friberg on July 1, 2010 in my birth place of Salt Lake City, Utah at age 96. Friberg was the last living proponent of the classic Norman Rockwell/Harvey Dunn school of illustration.
He is best known for one masterpiece of a painting and three key painting projects.
Perhaps his most famous painting is his masterful portrait of George Washington, The Prayer at Valley Forge.
In 1953 Cecil B. DeMille hired Friberg to paint a series of pictures that established the visual tone and grandeur of DeMille’s next epic, The Ten Commandents.
For his extensive work on that film Friberg received an Academy Award nomination for Best Costume Design. Many of his paintings for this film were collected and reproduced in color in two different official program books for the film.
Friberg was also famed for his more than 300 paintings depicting the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).
His series of Mountie paintings began as a longtime ongoing series of commissions from the Northwest Paper Company. My old studiomate Richard Hescox and I used to write the Northwest Paper Company on a fairly regular basis. They were very gracious in sending us many prints and calendars featuring Friberg’s RCMP paintings.
His fourth major project was his illustration of The Book of Mormon for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
I don’t know if this is still true, but for a long time one could write to the Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City and receive (for free) a set of Friberg’s illustrations as well as a copy of The Book of Mormon containing those pictures.
Friberg became very successful as an artist. He invested his money wisely and early, buying prime property in Utah and building a beautiful home there.
Success is not without its drawbacks, however. There were several attempts in later years to purchase his home property. It had become extremely valuable as Salt Lake City had grown and prospered. Because Arnold refused, thugs were sent to his home where this gentle, elderly artist was brutally beaten near to death. He reluctantly sold his house.
In later years, as his reputation expanded, Friberg’s commissions grew in importance. He painted the royal portrait of HRH The Prince of Wales:
and the equestrian portrait of Queen Elizabeth II:
I was fortunate in being able to meet Mr. Friberg. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I read an advertisement for a Canyon Country (a rural suburb near Los Angeles) gallery. They announced that they were hosting a signing with Arnold Friberg. I gathered up the books I had that were illustrated by Friberg as well as a few of his choice prints and brought them to the gallery to be signed. I also brought samples of my work to give to Arnold.
As soon as Arnold discovered I was a fellow artist, he lit up. Much to the chagrin of the gallery owners, the signing stopped as Arnold began to tell me tales about his life and art in response to the questions I had.
I asked about his Oscar nomination. A huge grin spread across his face. “All that I can remember about the moment of being nominated is that Elizabeth Taylor handed me my nomination and gave me a kiss on the cheek!”
Once I started pulling out the Friberg rarities for Arnold to sign, the gallery owners’ attitudes changed. It turned out that they were fans, too. They became very excited to see reproductions of works with which they weren’t familiar. In addition to the prints they were selling, original paintings from different aspects of Friberg’s career were on display, including some of his brilliant Ten Commandments work.
I left on a cloud that day. I’ll never forget this fine and gracious gentleman and the kindness he showed me. Here’s to the enduring work and career one of the world’s greatest artists: Arnold Friberg.