Charles Théodore Frère was a pupil of Camille Roqueplan and Léon Cogniet. He travelled in Normandy, Alsace and the Auvergne before visiting Algeria in 1837 (where he witnessed the fall of the city of Constantine to the French, in their victory over Abd el-Kader's rebellion). He visited Algeria a second time the following year, stopping en route in Malta, Greece and Smyrna. Frère also stayed for a time in Egypt (around 1853), setting up a studio in Cairo and being formally accorded the courtesy title of bey by the government of the day. He continued on to Syria, Palestine and Nubia, returning to France with a full sketchbook and laden down with oriental objets d'art.
Frère exhibited at the Paris Salon from 1834 to 1887, participated at the Paris Expositions Universelle of 1855, 1867 and 1878 and, up to and including 1887, at the Salon des Artistes Français. He was awarded medals in 1848 and in 1865.
His body of work comprises almost exclusively oriental subject matter; indeed, he was one of the few French artists to have painted Beirut, Jerusalem, Damascus and Palmyra. He also produced a series of thirteen watercolours recording the inauguration of the Suez Canal in 1869, some of which he subsequently redid in oil. Examples of his work include a View of the Sidi Abder Rhaman Mosque near Algiers, View of the Baba-Zounn Suburb, Garden inside the Casbah, Algiers and Mitidja Plain near Algiers. Frère's strong point was an ability to inject a sense of atmosphere into his landscapes, not least by painting them at different times of the day in order to capture the soft light at sunset or the pale golden yellows of dawn, with Bedouin tents and minarets appearing through a heat haze. As a rule, he eschewed 'decorative' elements, preferring to paint in a flat yet cleanly-contoured style. His lesser-known French landscapes exhibit a heavier, fleshier style, oddly reminiscent of Dutch masters of the 17th century.
Museum and Gallery Holdings
Autun (Mus. Rolin): Simoom; Ruins of Palmyra
Bourges: Evening on the Nile
Laval: Vue of Karnak; Ruins at Luxor
Mulhouse: Camel-Drivers in Cairo; Cairo Street
Nancy: Arabs at Rest
New York (Metropolitan Mus. of Art)
Paris (Mus. de la Marine): thirteen watercolours
Perpignan: Museum, Rome
Rheims: Caravan Traversing the Arabian Desert; Arabs at Rest
Rochefort: Washing the Gramigna, Naples
Soissons: Water Trough