A painting of Charles I by Paul Delaroche, the 19th century French artist, is being restored in readiness for a forthcoming exhibition at the National Gallery, London.
I must admit to having a problem with Delaroche's art: it is lifeless, contrived and, well, boring. Perhaps it's because he specialized in English history and that was rammed down my throat at school. The title of a monograph on the artist is called Paul Delaroche: History Painted, which is exactly what he does. His oeuvre is comprised of a historical pageant of emperors, kings, queens, dukes, princes, favourites- all the trappings of history with a capital H. If Sellar and Yeatman had taken up careers as painters, this might well have been the result. But there's wit in those authors, something conspicuously lacking here. This is nothing more than a dull composition stiffly based on a Mocking of Christ, probably by Titian or Rubens.
The rescuers of Delaroche's picture say that it going to be shown next to their Execution of Lady Jane Grey. Now this is a Delaroche picture I really loathe. Even members of the NG don't think much of it. Here's Erica Langmuir in the Companion to the NG.
"I myself don't like this picture very much. I find the surface slick, the detail over-finicky for the large scale. Mainly, I dislike its sentiment: the apotheosis of female fragility pitied by a genteel executioner in russet tights. Delaroche, who based the painting on a sixteenth-century Protestant martyrology, has falsified the historical account the better to appeal to his contemporaries."
To be fair, Langmuir wrote this in 1994, but I doubt if this work has edged up the popularity stakes since then. Even the Charles I is preferable to this painted waxwork show. Speaking of the Stuart monarch, there's another representation of a historical event that must, I assume, go with the renovated picture since they're both similar in style and subject. This is the scene of Oliver Cromwell opening the lid of Charles I's coffin, an event that probably didn't happen,
Delacroix's- a much better history painter- words on this fabrication of the civil war come to mind here. "He [Cromwell] looks as he lifting the lid of a snuff box." That nails Delaroche perfectly. A precious, fussy painter obsessed with imparting an air of forced gentility to the canvas of English history. Give me paintings by Delacroix anytime.