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The Children of Edward

© 2009 Musée du Louvre / Erich Lessing

Paintings
French painting

Author(s):
De Vergnette François

The two princes, imprisoned in the Tower of London, were smothered on the orders of Richard III, their uncle and usurper of their rights. Following the success of The Death of Elizabeth I (Salon Denon), Delaroche purified his style, forsaking extravagant picturesqueness for more accurate historic detail, and theatrical hyberbole for a novel sense of dramatic suspense.

The imminent crime

Two pale-faced children cling to each other on a four-poster bed in a dark room. Edward V and his nine year-old brother Richard, children of the deceased king of England, Edward IV, have heard a noise and stopped reading. The king gazes melancholically at us, his younger brother looks anxiously towards the door; their dog watches the shadow of a foot in the light under the door. The painter is suggesting the children's imminent murder. Edward's children were smothered to death in 1483, on the orders of their uncle, who then took the throne under the name of Richard III. This tragic episode in English history had been popularized by Shakespeare's play, Richard III.

An artistic hit

The painter Paul Delaroche chose this subject for a painting he wanted to present at the 1831 Salon, where the canvas was a huge popular success. The picture was immediately purchased by the administrators of the Royal museums. Such was the painting's fame that it inspired Casimir Delavigne to write a play, The Children of Edward (1833). Paul Delaroche made a specialty of subjects drawn from English history (The Death of Elizabeth I, 1633, Musée du Louvre) and the woes of famous victims. He had his first success at the 1824 Salon with Joan of Arc (Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rouen). His works were widely disseminated, as they were perfectly adapted for reproduction as engravings or photographs.

A historic genre painter midway between classicism and romanticism

Delaroche was labeled a romantic during his lifetime because of his penchant for modern history and drama and also his realism. As The Children of Edward shows, he was intent on surprising and moving the viewer, but also concerned with the historical accuracy of the setting and costumes. Delaroche introduced into large format historical subjects the realistic detail that is typical of genre paintings: this picture was therefore classified as a historical genre painting, midway between the two. Many aspects of his style are not romantic, however. As in classical art, priority is given to precise drawing and highly-finished treatment. Delaroche has also forsaken the warm colors he used in previous works, like Joan of Arc, for instance.
The picture creates a sensation of heightened reality that is perfectly suited the true vocation of this type of work, to be sold as a reproduction.

Bibliography

Ziff Norman, De David à Delacroix. La peinture française de 1774 à 1830 , catalogue de l'exposition, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1974, pp. 386-388.
Bann Stephen, Paul Delaroche, History Painted, London, Reaktion Books, 1997, pp. 94-106.
Bann Stephen, Paul Delaroche. Un peintre dans l'Histoire, catalogue de l'exposition, Nantes, musée des Beaux-Arts, Montpellier, pavillon du musée Fabre, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, musée des Beaux-Arts de Nantes, Montpellier, Musée Fabre, 1999, pp. 52-56.

Technical description

  • Paul DELAROCHEParis, 1797-1856

    The Children of Edward

    1831

  • Oil on canvas

    H. 1.81 m; W. 2.15 m

  • Purchased at the 1831 Salon

    dit Les Enfants d'Édouard

    INV. 3834

  • Paintings

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