A Masterpiece Recovered: Delaroche’s Charles I Insulted
Painting damaged in the Blitz goes on public display for the first time in almost 70 years
Issued: November 2009
24 February – 23 May 2010
To coincide with the National Gallery’s major Sainsbury Wing exhibition, Painting History: Delaroche and Lady Jane Grey, a Room 1 exhibition presents, for the first time, the recently recovered masterpiece, Delaroche’s 'Charles I Insulted by Cromwell’s Soldiers', 1836 (private collection).
Shown at the Paris Salon of 1837, the painting was commissioned by Lord Francis Egerton (1800–1857), the future 1st Earl of Ellesmere, at the height of Delaroche’s fame. For decades, the picture hung among the splendid collection of paintings at Bridgewater House in Saint James’s, the London home of the Ellesmere family.
On 11 May 1941, Bridgewater House was hit by a German bombing raid. The building sustained structural damage, and a crater, ten feet (3m) deep, opened up in the street. Delaroche’s monumental painting, 'Charles I Insulted', then hanging in the dining room, received extensive shrapnel damage. In the immediate aftermath of the attack, remedial action began. The canvas was removed from its stretcher and paper laid down over the larger tears to consolidate the surface.
The painting was then rolled up and evacuated to a country house in the Scottish Borders, where it has remained safe and dry for almost 70 years. It was unrolled for the first time this summer (2009), with the kind permission and support of the Duke of Sutherland, at the instigation of the National Gallery, London, and the National Gallery of Scotland. Conservators counted around 200 tears to the canvas, large and small, received during the bombing raid. Traces of plaster dust from shattered walls have been found on the picture surface, blown there by the force of the explosion. Despite this damage, the picture was discovered to be almost entirely legible and has lost none of its emotive intensity. The indignities heaped upon a ‘Christ-like’ Charles I are as poignant now as they ever were. The painting is being cared for by conservators but is yet to be fully restored, so will retain its war wounds for visitors to examine.
'Charles I Insulted' is one of the great paintings on themes of English history for which Delaroche had become renowned. The king is shown just moments before his execution in 1649, being bullied by Cromwell’s defiant troops. Yet, just a few rooms away, visitors to the Gallery can see the all-powerful Charles, in Van Dyck’s iconic Equestrian Portrait of Charles I, about 1637–8. These paintings play out the fate of a reign which changed the course of British history forever and presented striking parallels for the course of French history.
The recovery and redisplay of Delaroche’s 'Charles I Insulted' mirrors, in many ways, the fortunes of another great masterpiece by the artist, The Execution of Lady Jane Grey, 1833. Bequeathed to the nation in 1902, 'Lady Jane' was stored in the basement of the Tate Gallery, when on 7 January 1928, this area was flooded by the Thames. Conservation work began immediately but 18 oil paintings were deemed ‘completely spoiled’, including Delaroche’s canvas. Lady Jane was rolled up and forgotten. In 1973, to the surprise of Tate curators, this monumental canvas was rediscovered, in almost pristine condition. Two years later, the painting went on display in the National Gallery and since then, has become one of the nation’s best-loved paintings.
The opportunity to display Charles I 'Insulted by Cromwell’s Soldiers' under the same roof as 'The Execution of Lady Jane Grey' is a tremendous moment.
For further press information please contact Thomas Almeroth-Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org or 020 7747 2512.
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'A Masterpiece Recovered: Delaroche’s Charles I Insulted' is organised by the National Gallery, London, and is curated by Christopher Riopelle and Anne Robbins, Curator and Assistant Curator of Post-1800 Painting at the National Gallery, London. With the kind permission and support of the Duke of Sutherland and the National Gallery of Scotland.
Dates and opening hours
Press view: 23 February 2010, 10.30am – 1.30pm
Open to public: 24 February – 23 May 2010
Daily: 10am–6pm, Friday: until 9pm
Last admission: 5.15pm (8.15pm Friday)
Enter by the Portico Entrance