Egypt Comes To New York
Rehs Galleries Inc., New York's leading gallery specializing in 19th- and 20th-century works of art, has recently acquired an important painting by the 19th-century French Orientalist artist Charles-Théodore Frère (1814-1888). Beni-Souef, Egypte, measuring 16 x 24.5 inches, is a magnificent example of the artist's Nile River scenes, giving the viewer a small glimpse into 19th-century Middle Eastern life.
Charles-Théodore Frère received his formal training at the École des Beaux-Arts under Jean-Léon Cogniet (1794-1880) and Camille Roqueplan (1802-1855), and exhibited his first painting at the Paris Salon of 1834 titled Vue des Environs de Strasbourg. In the late 1830s, Frère spent about two years in Algeria and soon became one of the first-generation artists committed to the Orientalist theme, immersing himself in this study throughout his lifetime. During the 1850s, he spent several years in Egypt, traveling down the Nile numerous times and eventually establishing a studio in Cairo. From 1855 onward, he only exhibited Orientalist-themed works at the Paris Salon, continuing to do so for the next three decades.
Frère's love of Middle Eastern subject matter would inspire many younger artists, such as Jean-Léon Gérôme, Rudolf Ernst, Ludwig Deutsch, Eugene Girardet, and Eugène Fromentin.
The gallery's current work, Beni-Souef, Egypte, is a beautiful sunset scene featuring a group of men and camels at rest along the Nile River, which runs some 4,100 miles through Egypt and Sudan. According to Howard Rehs, the gallery's director, what caught our attention was the work's quiet time of day and complex subject matter, as well as its overall condition, quality, and size. Over the years, we have seen, and been offered, many other works by Frère that have had condition issues – particularly extensive pigment cracking, overcleaning, and inpainting. From the photos, this one looked good, and after seeing it in person, we knew it was right for us. So, we purchased it.
While Beni Souef (or Beni Suef) is one of the modern regions of Egypt, the title of the painting likely refers to that region's capital city on the west bank of the Nile. Located seventy miles south of Cairo, the city and its surroundings have been continually inhabited since ancient times. The ancient city, the ruins of which are located several miles west of modern Beni Souef, served as the primary city of Lower Egypt during the twenty-second and twenty-first centuries BCE. The Greeks and Romans named the site Heracleopolis, or the City of Hercules. It was only during the Middle Ages that the city began to grow steadily, thanks to the production and sale of cotton textiles that continues to this day, mainly in the form of carpets and rugs.
Research on the work's history is still ongoing. Since the artist did not date many of his paintings, it is difficult to pinpoint an exact date for this piece. That said, at the Paris Salon of 1879, the artist exhibited a painting titled Beni-Souef (Égypte). Could this be that painting? Hopefully, time will tell.
For more information, visit https://www.rehs.com, or call Howard Rehs at (212) 355-5710