From his first great success at the 1824 Salon with Joan of Arc in Prison to the 1857 retrospective exhibition at the École des Beaux-Arts following his death Paul Delaroche was one of the most popular and respected French painters of the nineteenth century. He was trained first by the landscape painter L.-E. Watelet and then by Baron Gros, who influenced his development as a history painter and later called Delaroche “the glory of my school.” Delaroche’s historically accurate and technically skilled style of history painting seemed to some a stylistically neutral compromise in the raging battle between classicism (exemplified by Ingres) and Romanticism (exemplified by Delacroix) and for that he has been named the leader of the “juste milieu.”
Delaroche treated history from a wide range of periods, but he became particularly associated with British history, following his sensational picture of The Death of Queen Elizabeth of 1828. Delaroche was included in the most important decorative program of the Restoration, the decoration of the Louvre’s Musée Charles X, for which he painted the sixteenth-century French history subject, The Death of Duranti. During the July Monarchy Delaroche continued to receive official commissions; a major work was his Hemicyle mural depicting the history of art for the École des Beaux-Arts, commissioned in 1837. In 1832, at the age of 35, Delaroche was the youngest artist of the nineteenth century to be elected to the Institut National des Sciences et des Arts, a sign that the official hegemony of classicism was waning.
This painting is an unusual illustration of Delaroche’s important role as a teacher at the École des Beaux-Arts, where he attracted a large following and inherited his master Gros’s studio after 1835. A print after the finished version of this painting is inscribed “Delaroche comp. Béranger pinx.,” which means that Delaroche designed the composition and Béranger executed it. This is the original conception, in the form of an oil sketch, which Delaroche must have shown his pupil. Delaroche’s pupil Hamon described his master’s practice of formulating an idea for students with a painted sketch before attending to fine execution and detail.
The picture’s subject is an episode from the English Civil Wars, a dramatic period in England’s history that inspired a great deal of Romantic literature in the nineteenth century. Although an engraving after this composition was advertised as a subject drawn from Walter Scott, Delaroche’s source was actually Chateaubriand’s Les Quatre Stuarts. Henrietta Maria (1609-1669) was the daughter of Henri IV of France and Marie de Medici and the sister of King Louis XIII. At age fifteen she was married to England’s King Charles I whose authoritarian rule and unpopularity with Parliament led to the English Civil War and his own execution. She was a courageous woman who actively assisted her husband in the Royalist cause by rallying support from the Pope, the French, and the Dutch. Following the Royalist defeat at the Battle of Marston Moor she fled to France and never saw her husband again. This picture represents Henrietta Maria in hiding accompanied by a cleric and a Cavalier soldier while Cromwell’s troops ride above.