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In the same way that Jules Bastien-Lepage and Jean-François Millet were drawn to the timeless rituals of pastoral life, Léon Frédéric pursued in his art the unsullied existence of rural Belgium and France. During a holiday in the Ardennes in 1883, he discovered the isolated village of Nafraiture. From that time, this idyllic retreat was to be his regular summer pilgrimage. Far away from the ‘corruption’ and frenetic nervous energy of the industrial revolution, this unspoiled picturesque village, where country folk went about trades and rituals which seemed as old as time, became his muse and an inspiration for many of his spiritual paintings. This romanticised association between the perceived simplicity and purity of French provincial folk and Religious spirituality was epitomised several decades earlier in Gauguin’s Vision apres le Sermon, and like Gauguin, Frédéric paints with glowing, pure glazes and primitive shapes and colours reminiscent of Folk Art to suggest a divine, otherworldly presence.
The tiny houses of Nafraiture, with their unmistakable stone tiled sloped roofs, can be seen in the background of L’Annonciation douleureuse. The theme of the Annunciation was the focus of many of his works during the 1920s. (George Frédéric, the artist’s son, mss. list of Léon Frédéric’s paintings.)