Ronny Van De Velde
Léon Frédéric is a virtuoso painter who in the 1880s shifts his focus to naturalism and social involvement. He becomes a member of the Brusselsbased association L’Essor, a group of young artists who want to paint contemporary social reality instead of using imaginary, often literary themes as their artistic starting point. His great interest in the Italian renaissance and for the Flemish primitives explains the more stringent character of the style he uses to paint poor folk and farmers ‘true-to-life’, especially after 1883 when he regularly resides in a small village in the Ardennes. For the presentation, as well, Frédéric finds inspiration in the past. He makes triptychs, like Les âges du paysan (1885-1887), where the religious motif is replaced by large-scale portraits of rural life that as to clarity leave nothing to be desired. But however realistic the result – as in this portrait of a farm girl, perhaps a study for a larger work – it nonetheless is a staged reality, with unaccidental elegant lines and harmonious, luminous colors. The realistic art work is a construction, not a representation. The peasant girl is there for the eloquent effect she provides. With extreme precision, the craftsman translates her eventual discontented lot into a state ograceful resignation. In the end, perhaps Frédéric had an ‘idealistic’ approach to his art, and in this he is akin to the great masters of the past whom he so admired. It also then comes as no surprise that, starting in 1890, he paints
allegorical works that fall under the heading of symbolism.