Fritz von Uhde
Christ with the Peasants

Christ with the Peasants
Fritz von Uhde (1848-1911)
Christ with the Peasants
1887-1888
Oil on wood
H. 50; W. 62 cm
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

Le Christ chez les paysans [Christ with the Peasants]


In this painting from 1887 to 1888, Uhde presents an image of grace being said before a meal. Although Christ is recognisable by his halo, beard and long robe, he resembles the peasants quite closely. He appears as a brother of the people, of the poor, "God's true people". Thus, Uhde is part of the liberal Protestantism of his century, influenced by a move towards a moral, rather than mystical, practice of religion. The role of Renan's Life of Jesus should not be overlooked in this social Christianity. This work which appeared in 1863 had considerable repercussions throughout Europe. In it the author argues that a biography of Jesus should be approached like that of any other man.

As in Millet's Angelus, it is a female character here that expresses the greatest fervour. The mother leans towards Christ, her eyes raised up to him, whereas the men simply lower their heads in a traditional gesture of reverence. This was a very common stereotype at the time, when women were regarded as the principal upholders of religious traditions, in particular in the countryside.
Christ with the Peasants was very successful, but it was also criticised, especially by intransigent Catholics who saw it as destroying Christ's sacred aura. This did not, however, discourage other artists from exploiting the same theme: Léon Lhermitte, for example, who, in the Supper at Emmaüs (1891-1892, Boston, Museum of Fine Arts) and Among the Humble (1905, New York, Metropolitan Museum) compares Christ with contemporary peasants. Uhde's painting was bought by the State in 1893, the politicians having doubtless realised the overriding humanitarian message of the work.




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