French painter Paul Delaroche was one of the most popular and highly regarded academic painters of the 19th century who found his inspiration between the Classicists and Romantics earning him the title as leader of the ‘juste milieu’ (middle of the road) artists.
Hippolyte Delaroche was born July 17th, 1797, the son of art dealer and collector Grégoire-Hippolyte. Going by the name of Paul, he began studying landscape painting under L.E. Watele but discovered his real passion for history painting when he became a student of Antoine-Jean Gros in 1818. Four years later he had his début at the Salon exhibiting such early religious works as ‘Christ Descended from the Cross’ and ‘Jehosheba Saving Joash’.
Known for his dramatic subjects painted in the French Academic style, Paul Delaroche had an affinity for English history best represented in paintings such as ‘The Death of Queen Elizabeth’ (1828), and ‘The Children of Edward IV (1831).
Playwright Casimir Delavigne's play entitled ‘Les enfants d'Édouard’ (The Children of Edward) (1833), was inspired by that painting and was dedicated to the artist. His fame elected him into the Académie des Beaux-Arts in 1832. A year later he was named professor to the École des Beaux-Arts and took over former teacher Gros' studio, where he taught Jean Léon Gérôme among others.
Paul Delaroche was considered the most highly acclaimed contemporary painter in France, and was acknowledged as leader of the historical genre of painting. ‘The Execution of Lady Jane Grey’ (1834), displayed at the Paris Salon, brought him much acclaim, while three years later, the exhibition of ‘St. Cecilia’ (1837) drew harsh criticism. Discouraged with the negative press, the artist withdrew from any future exhibitions at the Salons.
At the age of thirty-five, Delaroche was elected to the Institut National des Sciences et des Arts (the youngest artist of the nineteenth century to be elected). One of his most important works was a series of murals commissioned for the newly-built École des Beaux-Arts entitled ‘Artists of all Ages’ (1837). It was twenty-seven meters in length and took four years to complete. It represented a variety of painters, sculptors and architects from antiquity to the 18th century.
Paul Delaroche (accompanied by some of his students) traveled to Rome, Italy in 1843, to study Italian art, an experience that inspired in him a return to religious subjects and portraiture. Paul’s work on a series of paintings portraying the life of the Virgin Mary would never be realized as he died in his native city Paris in 1856.