FRANCESCO HAYEZ’S FIRST MASTERPIECE

Francesco Hayez (Venezia, 1791 – Milano, 1882), Gruppo della famiglia del pittore con il primo autoritratto 1807-1809, olio su tela, 134x94,5 cm Treviso, Museo Civico, INV. P 231

Francesco Hayez (Venice, 1791 – Milan, 1882), Group of the painter’s family with the first self-portrait 1807-1809, oil on canvas, 134×94.5 cm Treviso, Museo Civico, INV. P 231

Francesco Hayez’s first known painting, the Self-portrait with family members (l’Autoritratto con famigliari) can be considered to mark the end of the eighteenth century and the start of the nineteenth for painters and painting in Venice and the Veneto region. It was acquired in about 1890 by Luigi Bailo, founder of the Treviso City Museum.

In 1864, a previous owner of the work, Giuseppe Basso, wanted to make sure that it was really by Hayez. He sent it to the artist, who signed and dated it — 1807 — when he would have been sixteen years old. In the foreground of this work, we see two children. In the middle are two female figure (sisters? Francesco’s mother and her maternal aunt who raised him?); in the shadows, at the back of the picture we see Hayez himself, his portfolio of drawings under his arm, thereby ensuring that we understand that: he is a painter. The melancholy mood that reigns over the whole, however, seems to suggest that a parting of the ways is imminent. This actually happened in 1809, when the eighteen-year-old Francesco left for Rome, having won a bursary from the Academy the Fine Arts in Venice, headed up by Leopoldo Cicognara. As a consequence, he was able to claim to be the best classical-style painter in Italy, with help and encouragement from Canova himself.

In this painting, the young Hayez was in no way influenced by the “antiquarian” mood that he would find dominant in Rome. Indeed, he seems to be totally attuned to, and not lacking in considerable daring, the visual culture of Venetian painting of this particular turn-of-the-century, taking inspiration from a number of local painters, from Francesco Maggiotto (1738–1805) through to Teodoro Matteini (1753-1831). These aspects were highlighted by the noted art historian Rodolfo Pallucchini (1908–1989) when he included this painting in the 1946 exhibition of Venetian painting held at the Procuratie nuove.