French Romantic painter and sculptor Paul Delaroche was born on July 17, 1797. He specialized in historical scenes after having trained initially as a landscape painter. He turned to figure painting in 1817 after failing to win the Prix de Rome. He entered the studio of Gros and began exhibiting at the Salon in the early 1820s — at the very time when the rivalry between Romanticism and Classicism was at its fiercest. Delaroche steered a middle course between these two extremes. His historical subjects, which aimed at poignancy rather than grandeur, were typical of the Romantics, but were handled in a bland academic manner.
Neoclassical painters had taken their historical themes from ancient Greece and Rome, but for the Romantics, British subjects were more appealing. This was largely due to the popularity of the novels of Sir Walter Scott. Certain themes also had a particular resonance for French spectators. Cromwell was often seen as a forerunner of Napoleon, while the beheading of Lady Jane Grey evoked memories of the French Revolution. After Delaroche’s death, his melodramatic style completely fell out of favor, although, in recent years, his reputation has undergone a minor revival. He died on November 4, 1856.