Recently Conserved American Portrait Reveals a Once-Erased Enslaved Boy's Story

  • July 01, 2022 10:48

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Attributed for Jacques Guillame Lucein Amans, Bélizaire and the Frey Children, c. 1837, Oil on canvas, 54.5 x 43.5 inches, Private Collection

Ogden Museum of Southern Art has unveiled a recently conserved 19th-century painting, Bélizaire and the Frey Children, to reveal a hidden central figure. The painting once again includes the image of an enslaved boy that was intentionally painted out and only recently uncovered and restored to the composition. Through the recent research and contributions of Jeremy K. Simien and Katy Morlas Shannon, the children in the painting were identified, and Bélizaire’s story was revealed. This historic painting is on view at the museum now through October 2, 2022.

Before restoration. Attributed for Jacques Guillame Lucein Amans, Bélizaire and the Frey Children, c. 1837, Oil on canvas, 54.5 x 43.5 inches, Private Collection

The painting was commissioned in 1837 by Frederick Frey – a wealthy German merchant and banker – and his wife Coralie D’Aunoy Favre – a member of an elite family in New Orleans. It depicts Elizabeth, Léontine and Frederick Frey Jr., as well as Bélizaire – the fifteen-year-old enslaved domestic owned by the children’s father. The Frey’s had acquired Bélizaire when he was six, selling him in 1856 to the owners of Evergreen Plantation as they dealt with economic hardships. 

Bélizaire was the only child depicted in the painting who survived to adulthood. At Evergreen Plantation, he labored as a cook and domestic. 

"This 19th-century Louisiana painting is a beautiful yet painful reminder of the history and legacy of slavery in the United States,” expressed Bradley Sumrall, Curator of the Collection at Ogden Museum of Southern Art. “While the idealized treatment of  Bélizaire in the composition does little to convey the trauma of forced labor and enslavement, his erasure was an attempt to remove him completely from history. By uncovering this figure through careful conservation and through the research that revealed the harsh reality of  Bélizaire's life - this painting restores not only the formal integrity of a historic painting but also a certain level of humanity to the painful narrative of enslavement." 

Bélizaire and the Frey Children is attributed to Jacques Guillaume Lucien Amans, a neoclassical portrait painter. The painting remained in the Frey family until 1972 when the great-great-granddaughter of Coralie Frey donated the painting to a Louisiana museum. The painting remained in storage until 2005, at which point it was deaccessioned and sold at auction. While in the holdings of a private collector, the painting underwent conservation, finally revealing the image of Bélizare that had been blotted away all those years ago. 

Tags: american art

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