Paul Delaroche (originally a familiar abbreviation of Hippolyte, his real name), a French historical painter, born in Paris, July 17, 1797, died there, Nov. 4, 1856. He at first studied landscape, but after several fruitless attempts to secure the academy prize renounced that branch of the art, and in 1816 entered the studio of Baron Gros, where his talents as a historical painter were rapidly developed. He chose a middle course between the classic and the romantic schools, striving for a style which should represent all the improvements in art and its general progress during the 19th century. Hence he and his school have been called "Eclectics." His first picture, "Naphtali in the Desert," was exhibited in 1819, and from that time until the great industrial exhibition in Paris in 1855, when a collection was made of his chief productions, almost every year witnessed the execution by his pencil of one or more striking works. His subjects were generally taken from English or French modern history. , His "Children of Edward IV. in the Tower," "Joan of Arc in Prison," "Execution of Lady Jane Grey," "Charles I. in the Guardroom insulted by the Parliamentary Soldiers," "Strafford on his way to the Scaffold," "Young Pretender succored by Flora McDonald," and "Marie Antoinette before the Revolutionary Tribunal," are good specimens of the subdued yet impressive manner in which he was accustomed to handle this class of subjects.
Still more powerful was his "Cromwell contemplating the Corpse of Charles I.," generally considered the best of his series illustrating the civil wars in England, and indeed of all his pictures on English subjects. Among his pictures from French history are a "Scene in the Massacre of St. Bartholomew;" the "Death of Cardinal Ma-zarin;" the "Assassination of the Duke of Guise," a work of great power, for which the duke of Orleans is said to have paid 52,000 francs; a series of four pictures, representing the "Baptism of Clovis," the "Oath of Pepin the Short," the "Passage of the Alps by Charlemagne," and the "Coronation of Charlemagne at Rome," painted for the gallery of Versailles; the "Destruction of the Bastile," and the "Girondists in Prison." His "Napoleon at Fontainebleau" and "Napoleon at Mount St. Bernard," of both of which he made several copies, have obtained great popularity. The work which occupied the greatest share of his attention, and upon which he intended that his reputation should rest, is his fresco of the hemicycle in the school of fine arts, a composition of great size and merit, representing the illustrious masters of art of all ages.
This picture includes 74 life-size figures, and is admirable for its elevated tone, simplicity of arrangement, and fulness and force of expression. It cost Delaroche four years of incessant labor, and has been beautifully engraved by Henriquel Dupont. In the winter of 1855 the picture was much injured by fire, and the anxiety and labor attendant upon the work of restoration are supposed to have hastened his death. At various times, but particularly in the latter part of his life, he painted sacred compositions, which are inferior generally in elevation and character to his historical subjects. "Herodias with the Head of John the Baptist" is among the best. Some of his purely domestic subjects, such as "A Mother fondling her Children," are full of grace and sweetness. He painted likenesses of Guizot, Thiers, Lamartine, his own father-in-law Horace Ver-net, and other distinguished Frenchmen, which show considerable talent for portraiture. But his fame rests on his historical pieces, which for elevated manner, correctness of design, and beauty of drawing and color were unsurpassed by contemporary works.