Thursday, 25 February 2010
Delaroche and Lady Jane Grey
This week I was lucky enough to be invited to the private viewing of a new exhibition at the National Gallery. The centrepiece is Delaroche's Lady Jane Grey, and it was surrounded by drawings and other paintings by both Delaroche himself and his contempories.
It proved to be a fascinating evening, discovering forgotten artists like Bonington, who died aged 26. With themes of Tudor tragedies, Cromwellian conspiracies, Catholic heroes (Thomas More) and other Victorian fascinations, these artists, like the Italian bel canto composers, found such material irresistably exotic.
Rather out of favour for a long time it is hoped this exhibition will restore Delaroche's reputation. It was fascinating to see how all these artists had learned from other artists like Velazquez and classical compositional techniques. It was also humbling to think of the time and dedication devoted to vast canvasses. Would artists today be inspired to spend years on a politically motivated scene? On that subject, the grand finale was a Cromwellian epic, recently discovered rolled up in the cellar of an aristocrats castle. It was thrillingly presented in a raw state, with shrapnel damage from the second world war. Which brings me to the dedication and love the National Gallery staff lavish on the paintings and the constant improvements of restoration techniques, right down to finding exactly the right frame for a work. It was a privilaged evening and I felt extremely lucky to be there. It's a good exhibition - go and be astonished at the tiny little preliminary sketches that suddenly jump to life in epic canvasses.