Brussels 1856 - Schaarbeek 1940
oil on canvas
126.5 x 94 x 2.5 cm
Inventory number 1264
Two girls, presumably sisters, are sitting diffidently side by side. The eldest of the two has
her arm protectively around the other's shoulder. They seem to be aware of the viewer's presence
and look out of the canvas with a gaze that is both penetrating and shy.
The Brussels-born painter Léon Frédéric rendered the two girls extremely accurately, with a clarity and on a scale that photography would only be able to emulate much later. As an adherent of Naturalism, a late-19th-century art movement, Frédéric represented the less important elements more sketchily. The area above the two girls' heads, for example, could be either a cloudy sky or a grubby wall in a farmhouse.
According to a 1925 opinion poll, Frédéric was Belgium's most popular artist. In fact, he gained critical acclaim from the start of his career, unlike many of his contemporaries. Despite his instant success, Frédéric kept his feet firmly on the ground. He was touched by the harsh living conditions of the working class and he expressed this social awareness in his art. During a stay in the Ardennes, he was confronted with the poverty of peasants in Wallonia. The painting of these 'boëchelles', a Walloon dialect word for girls, should be seen in this context.