François-Joseph Navez

The Lamentation

François-Joseph Navez was born in Charleroi, present-day Wallonia, in 1787. In 1803 he enrolled in the Brussels Academy, the so-called Société des Beaux-Arts, co-founded and directed at the time by the painter Pierre-Joseph Célestin François. In 1812, Navez won first prize as a history painter at the Salon in Ghent. The prize money allowed him to go to Paris, where he was taught by Jacques-Louis David from 1813 until 1816. He greatly admired the latter, who he even followed into exile to Brussels in 1816. He painted David’s portrait, which still hangs in the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Brussels today. In 1817 Navez went to Italy, where he would remain until 1821.

François-Joseph Navez may be considered the only ‘Belgian’ (as of 1830) neoclassical painter of note, who had great influence on the development of South-Netherlandish (later Belgian) painting, not in the least because he taught many pupils, including the orientalist painter Jan Frans Portaels, Alfred Stevens and Constantin Meunier – to name but a few. From 1835 until 1862 he was director of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Brussels. Navez was a successful and excellent portrait painter, who imbued the portraits of his sitters with great psychological depth; he also produced many historical, mythological and religious works, many of which are now kept in museums and institutions across Europe. He was regularly asked for commissions, private as well as institutional (e.g. designs for altar pieces).

The present work, which depicts the Lamentation, came into being during Navez’ stay in Rome in 1817. As was the case with many of his works, it was later re-worked, in this case in 1840 in Brussels – a fact the artist meticulously recorded. This says something about the influence of the works the artist made during his stay in Italy, as they were frequently revisited throughout his career. The drawing, which has a powerful – although stylized – emotional resonance, is neoclassical in style, although it already hints at the symbolism and realism that were to characterize Belgian art from the late 19th century onwards.

Artist: François-Joseph Navez (Charleroi 1787 - 1869 Brussels)
Medium: black chalk on paper
Dimensions: 285 x 220 mm
Signed: 'F. J. Navez Roma 1817 refait à Bruxelles en 1840', lower right