Musée d'Orsay: Léon Frédéric The Ages of the Worker

Léon Frédéric
The Ages of the Worker

The Ages of the Worker
Léon Frédéric (1856-1940)
The Ages of the Worker
Between 1895 and 1897
Oil on canvas (triptych)
Left and right panels H. 163; W. 94.5 cm Central panel H. 163; W. 187 cm
© ADAGP, Paris © RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Hervé Lewandowski

The Ages of the Worker
The Ages of the Worker

Les âges de l'ouvrier [The Ages of the Worker]

Throughout his career, Léon Frédéric, a Symbolist painter from Brussels, inscribed his work in the great Flemish baroque tradition. He readily used ancient arrangements, in the form of triptychs, and filled each panel with a teeming crowd shown in expressive gestures and attitudes. The three panels of The Ages of the Worker swarming with dozens of figures are a good example. The left-hand panel shows the men engaged in heavy labour; on the right-hand panel the women are nursing their babies. The middle panel covers childhood and youth with a parade of youngsters coming out of school, or leaving their workshops or worksites.

Forming a counterpoint to this human tide pressing towards the spectator, a funeral procession can be seen moving away in the background of the central panel as a reminder of the inevitable epilogue to every life. The red flags around the hearse fit this last tribute into the stream of social demands in the late 19th century which some contemporary artists supported.

The drawing, accentuated by a silvery light which picks the figures out clearly, intensifies the deliberate impression of an animated, saturated space.

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