A Masterpiece Recovered: Delaroche’s Charles I Insulted
To coincide with the National Gallery’s major Sainsbury Wing exhibition, Painting History: Delaroche and Lady Jane Grey this special display presents a recently recovered masterpiece, Paul Delaroche’s 'Charles I Insulted by Cromwell’s Soldiers'.
For decades the picture hung among the splendid collection of paintings at Bridgewater House, the London home of the Ellesmere family. On 11 May 1941, the deadliest night of the Blitz, Bridgewater House was hit by a German bomb. Delaroche’s monumental painting, 'Charles I Insulted', then hanging in the dining room, received extensive shrapnel damage.
The painting uncovered
The painting was quickly consolidated, rolled up and evacuated to a house in the Scottish Borders, where it has remained safe and dry for almost 70 years. It was unrolled for the first time only in the summer of 2009.
Despite the damage – conservators counted some 200 tears in total – the picture was discovered to be almost entirely legible and has lost none of its emotive intensity. 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.
First shown at the Paris Salon of 1837, 'Charles I Insulted' is one of the great paintings on themes of English history for which Delaroche had become renowned.
The king is shown in the days before his execution in 1649, being bullied by Cromwell’s defiant troops. In this work, Delaroche was able to imply striking parallels between the poignant fate of Charles and the recent course of French history.
Detail from Paul Delaroche, ‘Charles I Insulted by Cromwell’s Soldiers’, 1837. Private collection. Photo © The National Gallery, London