This work is a study for Young and His Daughter (Musée des Beaux-Arts d'Angoulême), which was exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1804. The entry in the Salon catalogue (no. 467) included a quotation by the painting’s subject, the English poet and writer Edward Young (1683–1765), excerpted from the "Quatrième nuit" of a French edition of his extended poem The Complaint, or Night-Thoughts on Life, Death, and Immortality (1742–45; the relevant passage is found in "Night 3" of the English edition). The figure identified as the daughter in the title of the Salon painting was, in fact, Young’s step-daughter Elizabeth, who died in Lyons in 1736, when they and their respective spouses were en route to Nice. In this macabre scene, Young is shown carrying her corpse to the only cemetery in town that would receive her for burial, that of the Protestants, having first been refused at the Catholic cemetery. Her death was followed by those of her husband Henry Temple, son of First Viscount Palmerston, and his own wife, Lady Elizabeth Young, in 1740. This series of tragic deaths inspired Night-Thoughts, which was illustrated by William Blake in 1797 and by Thomas Stothard in 1799.
The quickly worked, richly impasted surface of the study contrasts with the smooth and highly finished picture at Angoulême. Despite its small dimensions and sketchiness it contains all the essential elements of the Salon picture. (For the latter work, see Lacambre 1974; see also Adrien Goetz in L’invention du sentiment aux sources du Romantisme, exh. cat., Musée de la Musique, Paris, 2002, pp. 118–19, no. 22.)
[2013; based on research undertaken in conjunction with Miller 2013]