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Bristol professor curates major National Gallery exhibition

Paul Delaroche (1797-1856), The Execution of Lady Jane Grey, 1833. Oil on canvas.

Paul Delaroche (1797-1856), The Execution of Lady Jane Grey, 1833. Oil on canvas. © The National Gallery, London

Press release issued: 25 February 2010

A new exhibition, 'Painting History: Delaroche and Lady Jane Grey', co-curated by Professor Stephen Bann of the University of Bristol opens at the National Gallery this week. The exhibition centres around the French artist's iconic masterpiece 'The Execution of Lady Jane Grey', 1833.

Paul Delaroche’s iconic masterpiece, The Execution of Lady Jane Grey, 1833, has become one of the national’s best-loved paintings.  The exhibition examines this iconic masterpiece in the context of Delaroche’s great historical paintings, particularly the poignant scenes from English history which made his reputation.

Professor Bann said: “Paul Delaroche was at the height of his fame in Britain and Europe around 1850.  Yet when I published the first illustrated monograph on his work in 1997 (the bicentenary of his birth), his name was almost forgotten.

“This new exhibition centres on his Execution of Lady Grey, a painting that soon recovered its popular appeal when retrieved from near-oblivion by the National Gallery in the 1970s.  But it also features many other masterpieces, in which a continuing thread is his impassioned reflection on English history from the Tudors to the Stuarts.

“As a Senior Research Fellow, I have been able to travel widely in securing the many loans for an exhibition that is already exciting great interest in France and elsewhere.”

Bequeathed to the nation in 1902, Lady Jane was stored in the basement of the Tate Gallery when on 7 January 1928, this area was flooded by the Thames.  Conservation work began immediately but 18 oil paintings were deemed ‘completely spoiled’, including Delaroche’s canvas.  Lady Jane was rolled up and forgotten.  In 1973, to the surprise of Tate curators, this monumental canvas was re-discovered, in almost pristine condition.  Two years later, the painting went on display in the National Gallery and since then, has become one of the nation’s best-loved paintings.

Painting History also features seven major international loans of paintings by Delaroche including The Princes in the Tower, 1830 and Young Christian Martyr, 1854–5 (both Louvre), and Strafford on his way to Execution, 1835 (private collection).  Displayed alongside are Delaroche’s expressive preparatory drawings for Lady Jane and a selection of comparative paintings and prints by his contemporaries, including Eugène Lami, Claude Jacquand and François-Marius Granet.

Professor Bann’s task as curator also involved a major role in researching and writing for a substantial catalogue to accompany the exhibition.  Painting History: Delaroche and Lady Jane Grey by Stephen Bann and Linda Whiteley, with essays by John Guy, Christopher Riopelle and Anne Robbins, is published by the National Gallery Company, London.  £19.99 hardback.

Painting History: Delaroche and Lady Jane Grey runs from 24 February 2010 to 23 May 2010 at the National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London WC2N 5DN.

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