This Portrait of a man by François-Joseph Navez corresponds, as much as for its plasticity than for its subject, to early works achieved by the artist during his stay in Paris, between 1813-1816. At that time, Navez was already the winner of several prizes, when the Société de Bruxelles granted him a scholarship for continuing in Paris his studies. In Paris in August 1813, he immediately joined the workshop of Jacques-Louis David who was already at the peak of his fame. Through his influence, Navez soon left the Flemish tradition and bettered in the study of the portrait, which became his main focus: “When you find the occasion, do not omit to mention that portrait is my speciality; because I expect more from this genre than from any others” (letter to his friend Auguste De Hemptinne, see Denis Coekelberghs, 1976, p. 258).
During this period, stretching from 1813 to 1816, the study of the human body, and more particularly of the face, drew the painter’s attention. A sketchbook preserved in the Louvre museum – including, for the most part, academic drawings representing anatomic fragments – attests of this interest. It is also in these days that he carried out his first self-portrait as well as numerous studies of men, amongst which are masculine heads and busts . This approach to facial expression was, not such a long time after, deepened by David during his exile in Brussels (1816-1825). This phase brought the latter to confront the representation of pain and had an impact on his young student in his quest of expression. There is little doubt that, according to Coekelberghs, the direct realism and the naturalness of the poses, which can be applied to the present work, translates David’s influence . The present sheet can be also related to two academic heads of man dated 1816 and kept in a private collection . This work therefore seems to be a very fine testimony of the anatomical experimentation to which the painter devoted himself during his Parisian training, and which he followed on throughout his further career.
Mr. Denis Coekelberghs has confirmed the authenticity of the present sheet as genuine work by François-Joseph Navez.