1819 - 1891
A pupil of Rémon at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Gave up his studies in 1841 after competing unsuccessfully for the Prix de Rome. Nevertheless, he exhibited for the first time at the Salon of 1843, where he was well received by the public. His work found sufficient favour with his artist peers that the journal L’Artiste commissioned a reproduction of his 1844 Salon entry, Landscape with a Scene Drawn from Gil Blas, his first lithograph. It was not until the Exposition Universelle of 1855 that Berchère’s work was recognised with a medal; thereafter, from 1859 onwards, the medals came thick and fast – including a bronze at the 1878 Exposition Universelle and a Légion d’Honneur knighthood in 1870. He was one of the founder members of the Musée d’Étampes (museum of engraving) in 1875.
Berchère travelled widely throughout France (notably to Provence and Fontainebleau) before venturing farther afield – to Spain in 1847 and, in 1849 and 1850, to Egypt, Syria, Asia Minor, Greece and the Peloponnese, and Venice. He returned to Egypt six years later, this time in the company of Gérôme, Belley and Bartholdi. In 1860, Ferdinand de Lesseps selected him as the official artist for the Suez Canal Company; Berchère spent six months in the region and was able to observe at first hand the douars (tented settlements) characteristic of the region. In 1863, he wrote Suez: Five Months in the Desert Isthmus (Le désert de Suez: cinq mois dans l’isthme), an account of his impressions. He travelled to Egypt once more, in 1869, this time again in the company of Gérome and also with Fromentin, Tournemine, Guillaume, Charles Blanc and Philippe de Chennevières.
Berchère appears to have been influenced more by painters of the Barbizon School than by his immediate mentors. His earlier landscapes tended to be dark and sober, whereas his palette became richer and brighter once he had visited Provence and the Middle East. Although widely regarded as an Orientalist, Berchère never became obsessed with details of Islamic costume or architecture; instead, he opted for striking patches of colour applied liberally and expressively. Between 1870 and 1880, he took to painting extremely austere still-lifes that he refused to exhibit, let alone sell.
Museum and Gallery Holdings
Algiers: Hamesteion at Thebes
Bernay: Eastern Landscape
Étampes (Bibliothèque municipale): Attributes (two lintel panels)
Moulins: View of the Nile Delta (oil on card); Bazaar in Suez (1850); Delta Landscape (gouache)
Mulhouse: Caravan Halt
Orléans: Child Guarding the Crop at Doura, Nubia
Pontoise: Interior of Sacristy
Provins: Caravan Fording a River
Rennes: Eastern View; Farm near Etampes
Tours: Banks of the Nile