Hippolyte Delaroche, commonly known as Paul Delaroche (July 17, 1797 – November 4, 1856) was a French painter born in Paris.
Delaroche was born into a wealthy family and was trained by Gros, who then painted life-size histories and had many students.
The first Delaroche picture exhibited was the large "Josabeth saving Joas" (1822). This exhibition led to his acquaintance with Théodore Géricault and Eugène Delacroix, with whom he became friends. The three of them were the central group of a large body of historical painters, such as perhaps never before lived in one locality and at one time.
He visited Italy in 1838 and 1843, when his father-in-law, Horace Vernet, was director of the French Academy in Rome.
His studio in Paris was in the rue Mazarine. His subjects were painted with a firm, solid, smooth surface, which gave an appearance of the highest finish. This texture was the manner of the day and was also found in the works of Horace Vernet, Ary Scheffer, Louis-Leopold Robert and Ingres.
Delaroche's work was not always historically accurate. "Cromwell lifting the Coffin-lid and looking at the Body of Charles" is an incident only to be excused by an improbable tradition; but "The King in the Guard-Room, with villainous roundhead soldiers blowing tobacco smoke in his patient face," is a libel on the Puritans; and "Queen Elizabeth dying on the Ground," like a she-dragon no one dares to touch, is sensational; while "The Execution of Lady Jane Grey" is represented as taking place in a dungeon, which is badly inaccurate.
On the other hand, "Strafford led to Execution," when Laud stretches his lawn-covered arms out of the small high window of his cell to give him a blessing as he passes along the corridor, is perfect; and the splendid scene of Richelieu in his gorgeous barge, preceding the boat containing Cinq-Mars and De Thou carried to execution by their guards, is perhaps the most dramatic semi-historical work ever done. His 1835 "Assassination of the duc de Guise at Blois" is an exacting historical study was well a dramatic insight into human nature. Other important Delaroche works include "The Princes in the Tower" and the "La Jeune Martyr" (Young female Martyr floating dead on the Tiber).
Delaroche's love for Horace Vernet's young daughter Louise was the absorbing passion of his life. In 1835, he exhibited the "Head of an Angel," which was based on a study of her. It is said that Delaroche never recovered from the shock of her 1845 death. After her death his finest works were the extremely serious sequence of small elaborate pictures of incidents in the Passion. Two of these, the Virgin and the other Manes, with the apostles Peter and John, within a nearly dark apartment, hearing the crowd as it passes haling Christ to Calvary, and St John conducting the Virgin home again after all is over, are beyond all praise as exhibiting the divine story from a simply human point of view. They are pure and elevated, and also dramatic and painful.
Delaroche was not troubled by ideals, and had no affectation of them. His sound but hard execution allowed no mystery to intervene between him and his motif, which was always intelligible to the million, so that he escaped all the waste of energy that painters who try to be poets on canvas suffer. Thus it is that essentially the same treatment was applied by him to the characters of distant historical times, the founders of the Christian religion, and the real people of his own day, such as "Napoleon at Fontainebleau," or "Napoleon at St Helena," or "Marie Antoinette leaving the Convention after her sentence."
In 1837 Delaroche received the commission for the great picture, 27 metres long, in the hemicycle of the award theatre of the École des Beaux Arts. The commission came from the Ecole's architect, Felix Duban. This represents seventy-five great artists of all ages, in conversation, assembled in groups on either hand of a central elevation of white marble steps, on the topmost of which are three thrones filled by the creators of the Parthenon: architect Phidias, sculptor Ictinus, and painter Apelles, symbolizing the unity of these arts.
To supply the female element in this vast composition he introduced the genii or muses, who symbolize or reign over the arts, leaning against the balustrade of the steps, beautiful and queenly figures with a certain antique perfection of form, but not informed by any wonderful or profound expression. The portrait figures are nearly all unexceptionable and admirable. This great and successful work is on the wall itself, an inner wall however, and is executed in oil. It was finished in 1841, and considerably injured by a fire which occurred in 1855, which injury he immediately set himself to remedy (finished by Joseph-Nicolas Robert-Fleury); but he died before he had well begun, on the 4th of November 1856.