Many drawings by François-Joseph Navez are recorded in public collections, most of the time small sketches or studies made with ink or pencil. Large sheets like those are extremely rare, and only a few of them have been listed or located recently, including an impressive Lamentation dated 1816 and acquired by the Musée du Louvre in 2004. These rare sheets punctuated the career of the artist. Alvin listed a few ones in his catalogue in 1870, and again most of them have not been located.
The present discovery of these two sheets, An old man supported by his daughter and Mother consoling her young child, add to this corpus an interesting point, when Navez turned to be very sentimental and romantic, but also illustrating maternal and filial feelings dear to the Catholic bourgeoisie of the time1. It is also clearly a strong recollection of his trainee in Italy between 1817 and 1822. That influence was so strong that the artist, returning to Belgium, felt a deep nostalgia which he transmitted into his art through a certain sentimentality. From then on, the Italian themes were an integral part of his work as described by Alvin2, including, of course, traits typical of the Antiquity such as the full lips, the straight nose and the big eyes, even sometimes bulging3. The inscription “Mon Dieu, conservez-moi mon père !” is related to a painting mentioned by Alvin for the year 1828 and entitled “Une vieillard malade soutenu par sa fille.”. Also, the composition is identical to the one of an anonymous painting of 47×37 cm, in a private collection, that might be considered as a copy of the original painting by Navez. Last by not least, Alvin mentioned for the year 1826: “Six grands dessins exposés au salon de Gand, dont deux ont été vendus alors. Les quatre autres sont chez M. Portaels.” This is why the present sheets can be dated ca. 1826-1828.
In addition to this, witnessing the experimentations of his master Jacques-Louis David, in Brussels from 1816 to his death in 1825, Navez pursued in this vein. His studies centered on faces reproduce several particularities inherited from David: such as the heads laid on the shoulders, expressions of pain and anguish4, that we can also find here.
Mr. Denis Coekelberghs has confirmed the authenticity of the present sheets as genuine works by François-Joseph Navez.