This evocative 19th-century oil painting by Ary Scheffer (1795-1858) a sorrowful family within a church interior. Bathed in brilliant light, mother and daughter look up towards the Divine, while the son rests woefully on his mother’s lap. It’s an arresting scene deftly rendered by an artist immersed within his own conscience.
In 1845, following particularly severe weather, Europe was in the midst of economic peril - food prices were climbing and unemployment was rife. Undoubtedly, during this time, many families turned to the Church for solace - seeking hope during their darkest hour. Scheffer witnessed this but as an onlooker - shielded by his status and wealth. He was living comfortably, partly due to his relationship with King Louis Philippe I, and was highly regarded by the establishment.
With this in mind, it’s interesting to consider how he looked upon the impoverished families of Paris. Did he regard them as a spectacle, a theatrical subject for a painting? Or was he emotionally bound to their suffering and racked with guilt?
To find an answer, we need to look towards 1848 when a workers’ uprising resulted in Louis Philippe I being overthrown and Napoleon III becoming president. Scheffer had fought for the King and witnessed brutal and bloody scenes. He was shocked by the treatment of the poor and scarred immeasurably.
Scheffer cared and, unlike many of his establishment peers, he had a conscience. For the rest of his life, his studio remained closed and he withdrew from exhibitions. Often returning to religious subjects, perhaps for guidance or penance.
The date of this particular painting is unknown but it’s probably around 1840-1850. Is it a guilt-ridden expression of the poverty he witnessed? Or perhaps a symbolic justification for the revolution itself?
Signed and housed within a frame that’s probably original.
Learn more about Ary Scheffer in our directory.
Medium: Oil on canvas
Overall size: 22½” x 27” / 57cm x 69cm
Year of creation: c. 1850
Condition: Craquelure throughout but it's been consolidated via a conservator. The paint layer is now stable. We've kept the frame with the painting as it's probably original. However it does show various signs of its age so you may prefer to replace it.
Artist’s auction highlight: £183,040 achieved for an oil painting in 2010.