London blog described how Paul Delaroche's magnificent work King Charles I Insulted by Cromwell's Soldiers 1837 used to hang in Bridgewater House (built 1847-50). At that stage, the Earl of Ellesmere had made Bridgewater House very special indeed. It was said to hold one of the finest private picture-galleries in England.
Delaroche, King Charles I Insulted by Cromwell's Soldiers, 1837
But this beautiful house in St James' Park became a near-ruin, destroyed by a bomb during World War Two. So it was always assumed that the painting was destroyed as well. In fact four of the duke’s paintings WERE destroyed.
But some unknown paintings were recently found rolled up in duke's Scottish home, Mertoun House, in the Borders. Tea at Trianon says that when the director of the National Gallery of Scotland asked to see these unknown paintings, they found the Delaroche, to the surprise and delight of everyone. It must have been taken to Scotland for safety, sometime after the bombing of Bridgewater House.
The King Charles painting is huge in both senses. Firstly the work is enormous, just under 4 x 3 metres. Secondly Paul Delaroche (1797-1856) was a major 19th century artist with a passion for important history scenes. He certainly spent time in Britain, studying famous English Old Masters.
Bridgewater House gallery, before and after bombing
The Western Confucian understood that knowing mid 17th century history was important, if the viewer was to understand this painting. He said that Charles I of England's "last years were marked by the English Civil War, in which he fought the forces of the English & Scottish Parliaments, which challenged his attempts to augment his own power, and the Puritans, who were hostile to his religious policies & supposed Catholic sympathies." The Society of King Charles the Martyr, one of the Catholic Societies of the Church of England, was dedicated to and under the patronage of this monarch who held the distinction of being the only person to be canonised by the Church of England after the English Reformation. The Jacobite Heritage may be traced to the reign of Charles I, for the Jacobites of 1688 were the direct successors of the Cavaliers of 1642, as the Whigs were of the Puritans.
In the painting the King, who must have been aware that he was facing his own immediate demise, was casting his eyes contemptuously at badly-behaved Roundhead soldiers. The king was made to look dignified and the Puritans made to look like drinking yobs, reliving a Mocking of Christ theme. So one question remains for me. Whose politics was Delaroche reflecting?
The Composed Gentleman said the latest exhibition at the National Gallery also features the huge The Execution of Lady Jane Grey 1833, another tour de force by Delaroche. This second painting was also believed to have been damaged beyond repair in the 1928 flooding of Tate Gallery’s basement. When the curators found it again in 1973 and realised it could be repaired, it was sent off for major restoration.
Delaroche, Execution of Lady Jane Grey, 1833
I haven't made a fuss of Lady Jane Grey because I have seen this painting published many times. But there were still some important British historical issues that Delaroche, a Frenchman, had to have been aware of. Firstly Frances, Lady Jane Grey's mother, was King Henry VIII's niece, so Frances was perfectly entitled to inherit the crown if King Edward VI died childless and Princess Mary was made illegitimate. Secondly Mary loathed Jane's vigorous Protestantism and had her beheaded as soon as possible as a religious traitor, as well as someone who usurped the crown. Delaroche's Jane died in a beautiful white silk gown, which Leanda de Lisle read as the sacrifice of a virgin martyr. But was she a virgin? And was she a martyr? Would civil war follow, if a Catholic queen came to the throne?
Representing London analysed some of the contradictions in Delaroche's Lady Jane Grey. She suggested Jane's youth and apparent benevolent intentions had been conflated with naivety and resignation to the will of others - casting her as a passive victim rather than a strong teenager. She confidently defended her right to rule over Henry bastard daughter Mary, and proved to be faithful to her religious principles until death.
So is it impressive that both of these large Delaroche works were unveiled, one complete with its shrapnel wounds, in late February 2010. They were part of a major “Painting History Exhibition” at the National Gallery which re-appraised the achievements of that French artist. I am grateful to Art Blog by Bob for noting that the Lady Jane Grey painting had been the sensation of the 1834 Salon Exhibition in Paris. Art history needs to be art-centred to be sure, but it also needs to be historical.