Pierre Edouard Frere (1819-1886)

Pierre-Édouard Frère (1819-1886) was born in Paris to a father who was a music publisher; Édouard was the younger brother of the Orientalist painter Charles-Théodore Frère. In 1836 Édouard entered the École des Beaux-Arts, at just seventeen, and began studying under the well-established academic painter Paul Delaroche, whose studio boasted many students who would later become very well known such as – besides Frère – Jean-François Millet, Charles-François Daubigny, and Jean-Léon Gérôme. Before beginning his career at the Salon Frère had already executed a number of works and established a modest career for himself, but for those artists seeking widespread acclaim, the main outlet was the Parisian Salons. Frère debuted at the Salon of 1842 with Mendiants de Dunkerque (Beggars of Dunkerque) and Le Petit Paresseux (The Lazy Young Boy). The following year he exhibited Le Petit Gourmand (The Little Glutton), before putting his Salon career on a five-year hiatus, only to emerge again at the Revolutionary Salon of 1848. During these intervening years he may have been concentrating on establishing contacts in order to begin a career in illustration since between 1844 and 1863 he executed several small drawings for texts such as Veillées Littéraires Illustrées by P. Bry (1848), and later illustrated Les Trois Mousquetaires by Alexandre Dumas, Les Contes de Noël by Charles Dickens, and Le Fils du Diable by Paul Féval, among many others. Even in these early illustrations Frère already showed a tendency towards depicting modern day people with a sentiment of sincerity, rather than recalling past figures, the former being a key interest of the Realist movement; to depict the current realities. While many of the Realists thrived on the vibrant life in Paris, Frère grew weary of it, and in roughly 1847 moved his family to Écouen, a small village about eight miles from Paris, remaining there the rest of his life. C.H. Stranahan in A History of French Painting (New York: Scribner’s & Sons, 1888, pg. 393) wrote of Écouen, that:
In the quiet of this village where at his coming the humble inhabitants, it is said, often share with him their frugal meal, he painted its simple scenes with a touch of feeling that converted the mechanical skill perfected under Delaroche into works of a charm that led Parisian dealers to seek him out. There, eight miles from Paris, he lived forty years and there his attractive character and the popularity of his art drew around him a colony of artists and pupils. To them with their families his house was opened two evenings in the week, besides the regular Sunday night ball of French custom. Frère became a well-known figure in this small village, bringing the children into his studio to use them as his models, often several at a time. Instead of staying in Paris, like his contemporaries, he travelled
"…about the by-ways of France, dressed in farmer’s gray, chatting in barn-yards and hay-fields with peasants, getting into their good graces, and delighting them with his bonhomie and his pretty pictures." In immersing himself in the people whom he was depicting, his art was given this unique and appealing sense of the truthfulness.