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July 14, 2012


Figure 1: Rue Cophte au Caire (Coptic Street in Cairo) by the French artist Charles Théodore Frère (exhibited for the first time in 1880 but based most probably on original from 1850s).

Charles Théodore Frère (1814 – 1888) was a prolific French artist who has a tremendous impact on French Orientalist art. He started off by painting French themes but was soon became captivated by the Orient. The Orient drew him first to Algeria (1836 – 1839); and then to Egypt, Greece, Turkey, and Syria (1851 – 1854). He was particularly fascinated by Egypt, spending in it many years, and travelling up and down the Nile; eventually, in 1853, he established his private studio in Cairo, becoming the court painter there, and a bey (he became known in Egypt as ‘Frère Bey’).  For the next decades he exhibited mainly Oriental themes at the Salon in Paris, including scenes of people, daily life, streets, interiors, landscapes, and nature.


Figure 2: The French artist Charles Théodore Frère (1814 – 1888).

Frère visited Egypt for the last time in 1869, when he accompanied Empress Eugénie to Egypt for the opening of the Suez Canal; and there she commissioned him to execute an album of watercolours.  When he returned back to France, he continued exhibiting regularly at the Salon until 1887, one year before his death at 74.

Charles Théodore Frère has possibly hundreds of paintings on Egyptian themes. I tried to find if he paid some attention to Coptic subjects, and could find but one, which is titled “Rue Cophte, au Caire” (Coptic Street in Cairo).[i] It is oil on mahogany panel, 33 x 24 cm, and is signed on its lower left, and also titled and signed on the back. We do not know the exact date of the original painting or this one, as it is not dated; however, we know that it was exhibited at the Palais de Champs-Élysées in 1880. Many of Frère’s oil paintings are known to have been based on earlier watercolour paintings. Anyway, the date of the original painting must have been sometime in the 1850s.[ii] The Coptic street Frère has painted was most probably in Coptic Cairo (Old Cairo); the people in the painting, however, may not all be Copts.



[i] Readers who know of more artistic works by Frère on Coptic theme, please let us know.

[ii] It is possible that it was made in Frère’s last visit to Egypt in 1869, but this is unlikely.

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