Paris January 10 1819 – May 23 1886 Ecouen
Pierre Edouard Frère was born in Paris five years after his brother Théodore. His father was a music editor and quickly saw his two sons interested by artistic topics. These weren’t music, but but painting. The oldest will be known as an orientalist artist, whilst Pierre Edouard Frère as a common people life painter.
At the early age of 17, he studied at the Paris Beaux-Arts school with Paul Delaroche (1797-1856) who was a very well known master artist at the time. He also studied with Jean-François Millet (1814-1875), Charles François Daubigny (1817-1878) and Jean Léon Jérôme (1824-1904), all of whom became well known artists.
His career really starts in 1843, when some of his paintings were exhibited at the « Salon de Paris » of the following year. One of these is « Mendiants de Dunkerque » (Dunkerque city beggars) which illustrates his will to show tough social lives during the industrial revolution time. This is a theme he will repeat though out his lifetime. The other one is « Petit paresseux » (the little lazy boy), forerunner of the common life style of paintings making the village of Ecouen famous.
In 1847, Pierre Edouard Frère settles down in Ecouen in a small and simple country house. This house is shown in one of the paintings of Léonide Bourges (1838-1909) who is a friend of Charles François Daubigny. Mrs Frère describes this house as a small thatched cottage to Cornelia W. Conant (1847-1935), American painter passing by Ecouen. It simple but with some rustic charm.
In 1865, success came and the painter erects the “villa Gabrielle” (second first name of his wife) at rue de Paris (actually rue du Marechal Leclerc). This mansion (today the Sainte-Therese college) was located on forested plot of 2 ha, spending 23.360 F.
A large quantity of French and foreign artists will join him in his countryside.
Cornelia W. Conant who was close to Pierre Edouard Frère described him as leaving his home at 8:00am. Sometimes he would paint in a small cattle truck with a roof to shelter him from the bad weather while wearing mouton skin. Other days, he would visit some resident’s homes that knew him well. He was looking to understand their work hardships, their simple family lives, or even their misery.
He almost never painted into his work place.
Pierre Edouard Frère was a very hard worker. The total quantity of his paintings is impossible to be known. He only stopped painting at dusk and at times even later.
Parents working, children playing and snow effects are his preferred topics.
The emperor to be Prince-President, Napoleon III purchased his painting his painting “La lecture” (the reading) in 1850. Napoleon III saw it and liked it during the yearly “Paris Salon” Exhibition. It was sent to the Elysees Presidential palace. This was Pierre Edouard Frere’s first grand recognition.
From then on, success will never leave Pierre Edouard Frère who gets invited every year to exhibit at the “Paris Salon”.
An art expert says « P.E. Frere is one of the highest rated artists in the auction rooms, as high as some small Flemish masters ».
Pierre Edouard Frere and the School of Ecouen attracted a lot of foreign art dealers and artists from the UK and the US. They compared his paintings with the ones of Rembrandt. He exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1868 to 1885. In 1854, he took part of the opening of the London French Gallery exhibiting School of Ecouen paintings until 1896.
His talent was recognized even in the US. Mary Cassatt (1844-1926) and many other painters traveled to Ecouen to learn from him before becoming well known artists. In November 1871, Harper’s New Monthly Magazine edited a thirteen pages article concerning Pierre Edouard Frère. It qualified his art as “sympathetic”. Some US painters, including George Boughton (1833-1905), Henry Bacon (1839-1912) and Adolf Von Becker (1831-1909) called his art “genial”. Two important finance peoples, William and Henry Walters and George A. Lucas, feeling for a good opportunity, came to Ecouen to buy some Pierre Edouard Frere drawings. They paid between 25 and 50 Francs for each piece. These are exhibited at the Baltimore museum.
Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1888) fondly appreciated Pierre Edouard Frere’s paintings. In several letters sent to his brother Theo, he wrote warm sentences concerning P.E. Frere work. He hung several reproductions in his room like “les Couturieres et le Tonnelier” and “le Ramassage du blé à Ecouen”.
Pierre Edouard Frere exhibited for the last time at the “Salon de Paris” in 1878. He worked until his last day of life. His funerals took place in the Ecouen’s church. His body rests close to his last home at the local cemetery.
His aura was such that he was called the “king of Ecouen”. He had been elected mayor (January 29, 1878) but resigned a year later.
At 67 years old, his loss was irreparable for the School of Ecouen.
During the February 6, 1892 city council, it was decided that a street of Ecouen should be named “Street Pierre Edouard Frere”. Part of this street can be seen today near the cemetery.
For further information, please read the book “L’Ecole d’Ecouen, une colonie de peintres au XIXéme siècle”, unfortunately only available in French for the time being (but we are working on it).