Mining the same rich vein as his predecessor Chardin (1699–1779), Pierre-Édouard Frère (1819–1886) devoted his art to a congenial celebration of the nobility of humble families, those leading a life of dignified toil in the spirit of the Beatitudes.
The French that he depicts had known dramatic suffering: first, from the French Revolution which, not content with cutting off their access to the land, also martyred them for their faith; followed by the Napoleonic era, which slaughtered their sons across all of Europe right to Russia. And now, here in the middle of the 19th century, the values of this Christian France, peasant and corporatist, only just getting back on its feet, were threatened with extinction.
Powerful interests wanted the Christian peasantry gone to make way for a working-class proletariat ripe for exploitation by the urban bourgeoisie, rationalist and boundlessly greedy for enrichment. It is in this context that the work of Pierre-Édouard Frère, for all its outward simplicity, stands as a social, political, and religious testament: for, inasmuch as dignified poverty is a true Gospel virtue, abject penury is an indignity crying out to heaven.
The artist also insisted on the transmission of the family values of Christian civilization, asserting that the de-Christianization of society would become unstoppable the moment mamas stop teaching their young children the love of prayer.
In his day, Frère enjoyed enormous success in France where he established a flourishing school. One notable contemporary who studied alongside Frère was Jean-François Millet, painter of the famous Angelus. Reproductions of Frère's works could be found hanging in every home. But it was above all the English and American public that ensured him a success that would be passed down to posterity.
Pierre-Marie Dumont. "Lord, teach us how to pray!" Magnificat (July, 2019).
Reprinted with permission of Magnificat.
The Evening Prayer (1857), Pierre-Édouard Frère (1819–1886), Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Netherlands. Public domain.
The AuthorPierre-Marie Dumont is the Founding Publisher of the monthly magazine Magnificat. He is a married layman and the father of a large family. Copyright © 2019 Magnificat
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