Bélizaire and the Frey Children

Attributed to Jacques Guillaume Lucien Amans Franco-American

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 756

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 revealed 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.

Bélizaire and the Frey Children, Attributed to Jacques Guillaume Lucien Amans (Franco-American, Maastricht (then under French rule) 1801–1888 Paris), Oil on canvas

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