Curious Objects: The Story of Bélizaire, Pt. 1: Biography

Editorial Staff Curious Objects

Bélizaire and the Frey Children, attributed to Jacques Guillaume Lucien Amans, c. 1837

In 1837 a family group that flew in the face of convention was committed to canvas, presumably by portraitist Jacques Guillame Lucien Amans. It showed four children. Three were white, dressed in their Sunday best and gazing placidly at the viewer. The fourth, standing behind them in a Brooks Brothers livery coat, was a Black teenager. This is Bélizaire, and at some point around the turn of the twentieth century—for reasons unknown—his portrait was covered up. Now, thanks to the sleuthing of scholars Jeremy K. Simien and Katy Morlas Shannon, and the efforts of conservationist Craig Crawford, Bélizaire has re-emerged. You’ve seen him on ANTIQUES’ cover (September/October), and read about him in our pages. Now comes the most in-depth portion of our coverage: a three-part Curious Objects episode about Bélizaire and the Frey Children, releasing every Thursday over the next three weeks. Today: Bélizaire’s biography, or what we know of it.

Feat. Jeremy K. Simien, Ogden Museum of Art curator of the collection Bradley Sumrall, historian and genetic genealogist Ja’el Gordon, and Washington and Lee University assistant professor of art history Wendy Castenell.