LONDON (Reuters Life!) - A painting by Paul Delaroche believed to have been virtually destroyed in a German air raid on London during World War Two went on display on Tuesday as part of a new exhibition on the French artist.
The large canvas entitled “Charles I Insulted by Cromwell’s Soldiers,” depicting the British monarch shortly before his execution in 1649, is hanging in the National Gallery in London with heavy shrapnel damage and discoloration clearly visible.
It is in the gallery’s free admission area, and organizers hope it will encourage visitors to pay to see the new show “Painting History: Delaroche and Lady Jane Grey” in the adjacent Sainsbury Wing. Full price tickets cost eight pounds ($12).
The exhibition is designed to restore the reputation of an artist who, when painting for Paris shows in the 1800s, was hugely popular but whose works, recognizable by their scale and melodrama, fell from grace for much of the following century.
It features what is probably Delaroche’s most famous image “The Execution of Lady Jane Grey,” itself damaged in a 1928 flood and presumed ruined before being rediscovered in 1973 in almost perfect condition.
The painting continues to be one of the gallery’s most popular works to this day.
Also included in the exhibition is the equally dramatic “The Princes in the Tower” (1830), which curator Christopher Riopelle said underlined Delaroche’s ability to recreate the drama of a specific moment in 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.”
And so the dog pricks up its ears, a shadow forms underneath the door and the two princes, locked in the Tower of London, huddle together in anticipation of the deadly events to come.
The princes were the sons of Edward IV who were placed in the tower and then possibly murdered on the orders of Richard III, although their exact fate remains unknown.
Delaroche was particularly fascinated in British monarchs and their sometimes bloody endings, and the show also includes “Cromwell and Charles I” (1831), where Cromwell gazes 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.”
The exhibition, which runs from February 24 to May 23, examines how Delaroche was influenced by theater and how his paintings took on a more sacred tone after a visit to Italy in the 1830s.
Both Charles I Insulted by Cromwell’s Soldiers and “Marie-Antoinette Before the Tribunal” (1851) “suggest episodes of the suffering of Christ,” the gallery said.
After his wife’s death, Delaroche’s work turned darker, as in the melancholic “Young Christian Martyr” of 1854.
The damaged Charles I canvas will be restored to its original condition once the exhibition is over.
Parts of the National Gallery were closed for two hours on Tuesday as members of the Public and Commercial Services Union took industrial action over pay. Further strike action is planned for Wednesday.
Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato