The Newly Acquired Portrait ‘Bélizaire and the Frey Children’ Now on View at The Met + Reopening of Galleries Dedicated to European Paintings

 

 

 

mage: Attributed to Jacques Guillaume Lucien Amans (Franco-American, Maastricht (then under French rule) 1801–1888 Paris), Bélizaire and the Frey Children, ca. 1837, oil on canvas, 47 1/4 × 36 1/4 in. (120 × 92.1 cm). Purchase, Acquisitions Fund, Brooke Russell Astor Bequest, Friends of the American Wing Fund, Muriel J. Kogan Bequest, and funds from various donors, 2023 (2023.317). Photo by Richard Lee, courtesy of The Met.

Here’s some news that will make your Monday a whole lot sweeter. The Met’s newly acquired painting Bélizaire and the Frey Children, attributed to Jacques Guillaume Lucien Amans (Franco-American, Maastricht (then under French rule) 1801–1888 Paris), is now on view in Gallery 756 of the American Wing.

Bélizaire and the Frey Children is a rare American portrait of an enslaved Black subject depicted with the family of his enslaver. Attributed to the leading French émigré portraitist working in 1830s-50s New Orleans, the painting illuminates the complex relationships of intimacy and inhumanity that defined domestic enslavement. The portrait’s later history also reveals the consequential afterlives of slavery. At the turn of the twentieth century, the prominent depiction of the enslaved Afro-Creole teenager, Bélizaire (ca. 1822—after 1860), who is positioned against a Louisiana landscape above the three young Frey siblings presumably in his care, was deliberately concealed—likely by a member of the Frey family. His figure was only recently revealed in 2022 after a careful conservation treatment. Archival research has also recovered the identities and some of the histories of all four subjects. Bélizaire survived the Civil War and lived to experience freedom. Both Frey sisters died the same year the portrait was painted, their brother some nine years later.

Bélizaire and the Frey Children is among the most fully documented American portraits of an enslaved Black subject depicted with the family of his enslaver. Attributed to the leading French émigré portraitist working in 1830s-50s New Orleans, Jacques Amans, the painting illuminates the complex relationships of intimacy and inhumanity that defined domestic enslavement. The portrait’s later history also reveals the consequential afterlives of slavery. At the turn of the twentieth century, the prominent depiction of the enslaved Afro-Creole teenager, Bélizaire (ca. 1822—after 1860), who is positioned against a suggestive Louisiana landscape above the three young Frey siblings presumably in his care, was deliberately concealed—likely by a member of the Frey family. His figure was only recently revealed, in 2022, after a careful conservation treatment. Archival research has also recovered the identities and some of the histories of all four subjects. Bélizaire survived the Civil War and lived to experience freedom. Both Frey sisters died the same year the portrait was painted, their brother some nine years later.

The portrait documents a moment in time in the lives of its Euro-Creole and Afro-Creole subjects—Elisabeth, Léontine, and Frederick Frey, Jr., and the enslaved teenager, Bélizaire. Although pictured in an idyllic landscape, Bélizaire and the Freys lived in a New Orleans three-story townhouse not far from the French Quarter studio of Amans. Frey Sr., a German-born merchant and banker, commissioned the portrait while serving as President of the Union Bank of New Orleans. Bélizaire’s fate—like that of his mother, Sally, who was also an enslaved member of the Frey household—was tied to the family’s financial success, which suffered shortly after this work was painted. Bélizaire was sold at least three more times before emancipation. He is last documented, at age 37, in the 1865 records of the Freedmen’s Bureau.

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The reopened galleries dedicated to European Paintings from 1300 to 1800 highlight fresh narratives and dialogues among more than 700 works of art from the Museum’s world-famous holdings. Reopening on November 20, 2023, the newly reconfigured galleries—which include recently acquired paintings and prestigious loans, as well as select sculptures and decorative art—will showcase the interconnectedness of cultures, materials, and moments across The Met collection.

The chronologically arranged galleries will feature longstanding strengths of the collection—such as masterpieces by Jan van Eyck, Caravaggio, and Poussin; the most extensive collection of 17th-century Dutch art in the western hemisphere; and the finest holdings of El Greco and Goya outside Spain—while also giving renewed attention to women artists, exploring Europe’s complex relationships with New Spain and the Viceroyalty of Peru, and looking more deeply into histories of class, gender, race, and religion.

The reopening of the suite of 45 galleries at the top of the Great Hall staircase follows a five-year project to replace the skylights. This monumental infrastructure project improves the quality of light and enhances the viewing experience for a new look at this renowned collection.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is located at 1000 Fifth Avenue, NYC.