Paul Delaroche (1797–1856)
The talent of a portrait painter at capturing a sitter’s character can often be seen in its greatest capacity in their studies of close friends or family members… the present work is clear evidence of this
The talent of a portrait painter at capturing a sitter’s character can often be seen in its greatest capacity in their studies of close friends or family members, and the present work, by the seminal French painter Paul Delaroche of his eldest son Horace, is clear evidence of this.
Hippolyte Delaroche, (later using his more familiar name Paul) was born in Paris on 17th July 1797 and enrolled at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in 1816, where he studied under the landscape painter Louis Etienne Watelet (1780-1866). The following year Delaroche left the tutorage of Watelet and joined the studio of Antoine-Jean Gros (1771-1835), whose large-scale neo-classical works, based mainly around historical themes, gave young artists like Delaroche the important opportunity to study from life the human form. After four years Delaroche left Gros’ studio and in 1822 exhibited at the Paris Salon what is considered to be his first major work ‘Jehoash rescued by Jeoashbeath’.
It was around this time that Romanticism was beginning to emerge on the Paris art scene with painters such as Eugene Delacroix (1798-1863) at the forefront, creating highly charged works such as ‘The Barque of Dante’ (also exhibited at the 1822 Salon) which denounced the classical style and encouraged a more emotive approach in terms of both style and subject. Delaroche, observing the benefits of the more established classical style yet also possessing a more avant-garde attitude, soon found a style which straddled both boundaries, cleverly combining historical events with a striking sense of emotion which the average salon visitor could relate to.
Through the use of engravings Delaroche was able to reach an international audience and some of his most successful works focussed on British subject matter, most notably ‘The Execution of Lady Jane Grey’  which remains to this day one of the most popular works on display in The National Gallery, London. Other works with British subject matter include his celebrated (and much copied) ‘The Princes in the Tower’  ‘‘The Earl of Strafford on his way to Execution  and ‘Charles I insulted by the soldiers of Cromwell’ .
In 1835 Delaroche married Anne-Elisabeth Louise, daughter of the painter Horace Vernet (1789-1863), the then professor of the French Academy, and the following year his eldest son Horace was born. In 1843 Anne-Elisabeth tragically died, a loss which was never fully overcome by Delaroche, and a situation only to be worsened by the outbreak of cholera in 1849 leaving his eldest son Horace in very poor health. Thankfully, Horace survived the infection and shortly after in 1851 was immortalised by Delaroche in the present work, in which he is shown glowing with vitality and staring out at the viewer with renewed confidence. A subtle, poignant similarity in the slightly downward, pensive glance can perhaps be drawn with Delaroche’s portrait of his wife painted 1835 titled ‘Angel’s Head’, painted in the year of their marriage.
This painting, along with a companion portrait of Horace’s younger brother Phillipe, remained in the possession of the artist until his death in 1856 and the following year was included in a retrospective exhibition in Paris.