Paul Delaroche’s painting “Charles I Insulted by Cromwell’s Soldiers,” which miraculously rose from the ashes of World War II, has finally gone on display more than half a century after it was thought destroyed by German bombers.
The National Gallery in London is on a campaign to restore Delaroche’s reputation as a major artist. He fell out of favor in the early 20th century, after his works were widely lauded during the 1800s.
The exhibition, which runs from February 24 to May 23, also examines the influence of religion and theater on the artist.
Check out these. Click to enlarge.
Delaroche, who was French, was famous for painting the darker episodes of English history, and Charles I depicts the British king shortly before his beheading in 1649.
The National Gallery hung the painting with shrapnel damage and discoloration from the bombing raid.
The Gallery plans to restore the canvas to its original condition once the exhibition is over, but that would be a mistake, because the damage now reflects the painting’s provenance.
Ironically, it also reflects a theme that runs through Delaroche’s work, the horrors inflicted on humanity by war and imperial power.
The exhibit, called “Painting History: Delaroche and Lady Jane Grey,” features Delaroche’s most famous painting, “The Execution of Lady Jane Grey.”
Coincidentally, it, too, was damaged in a 1928 flood. It survived in almost perfect condition, although it was presumed lost, until it was rediscovered in 1973.
The exhibit portrays another grisly moment in British history captured by the painting, “The Princes in the Tower” (1830).
The princes were the sons of Edward IV who were imprisoned and later disappeared, possibly murdered on the orders of Richard III. Their exact fate, however, has never been determined.
Curator Christopher Riopelle told reporters that the painting underlined Delaroche’s ability to recreate the drama of history.
“It is the perfect example of Delaroche’s genius in focusing in on a moment in the story of utmost tension and utmost terror,” he told reporters at a press preview. “Their death is foretold in what you are looking at.”
The same sense of terror is also captured in “Cromwell and Charles I” (1831). It depicts Cromwell gazing down on the corpse of the executed king in its casket.
“Part of the great effect of paintings like these resides in their size,” Riopelle said, referring to the monumental Cromwell canvas. “But they are also remarkably simple. We don’t have to struggle to interpret what is going on.”