26 October 2023
A famous painting in
the Wallace Collection
in London and a royal
kidnap in Stony Stratford
Charlotte and I recently enjoyed a visit to the Wallace Collection in London, reminiscing about visits to Venice as we worked our way through the interesting collection of works by Canaletto, and admired many other ‘Old Masters.’
There is also one painting in the Wallace Collection by a French-born artist of a scene that is often thought to have links with the history of Stony Stratford in Buckinghamshire.
Nos 26 and 28 High Street, Stony Stratford, are paired houses on the site of the Rose and Crown Inn in Stony Stratford. This is where the uncrowned 12-year-old ‘Boy King’, Edward V (1470-1483), is said to have been met by Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, and Richard Plantagenet, Duke of Gloucester and later King Richard III, on 29 April 1483.
Edward V had succeeded to the throne on the death of his father Edward IV. The young king was taken by the two dukes from Stony Stratford to the Tower of London, where, it is said, he and his younger brother, ten-year-old Prince Richard (1472-1483), Duke of York, were murdered. Their disappearance gives rise to many stories and legends about the ‘Princes in the Tower.’
Stony Stratford is a location for Shakespeare as he tells the story of the Princes in the Tower. ‘I hear they lay at Stony Stratford,’ it is said in Richard III, Act II, Scene IV, when the uncrowned Edward V is abducted in the Rose and Crown. The future Richard III finds the location of the bothers Edward and Richard, who stand in the way of his claims to the throne.
Less than two months after the abduction, Richard III became king on 22 June 1483. Shortly afterwards, the young brothers Edward and Richard were murdered in the Tower of London. Their murder is not shown on stage but instead is related by Sir James Tyrrel, Richard III’s henchman.
‘Edward V and the Duke of York in the Tower’ is a painting by the French artist Hippolyte (Paul) Delaroche (1797-1856) in West Gallery II in the Wallace Collection in London. It was painted by Delaroche in oil on canvas in 1831. It is a replica of a much larger painting in the Louvre in Paris and exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1831.
The painting is probably inspired by Shakespeare’s Richard III, Act IV, Scene III. Fittingly, this painting, with its stage-like setting and melodramatic subject, is highly theatrical.
The dog and perhaps the young Duke of York sense the arrival of the approaching murderers. An ominous shadow can be seen at the bottom of the door to the bedchamber. The presence of the bed, the prie-dieu and the prayer book the brothers have been reading indicates that in his composition Delaroche is making a subversive reference to the traditional subject of the Annunciation – the illumination on the left-hand page of the missal depicts the Annunciation.
This is one of several paintings by Delaroche where he grafted some of the classic structures of the great European tradition on to his compositions. This technique was used earlier by Jacques-Louis David and Antoine-Jean Gros and also by, among others, Théodore Géricault and Richard Parkes Bonington among Delaroche’s contemporaries.
Delaroche studied with three masters, including Gros, before making his debut at the Paris Salon of 1822. He established a European reputation with meticulously painted historical scenes such as ‘The Execution of Lady Jane Grey’ (1833, National Gallery, London) and ‘The Assassination of the Duc de Guise’. His ‘Hemicycle’ for the Ecole des Beaux-Arts (1836-1841), depicting 70 artists from antiquity to the reign of Louis XIV, became the most famous monumental painting in France.
Delaroche’s later works were largely portraits, scenes from the life of Napoleon and religious subjects. From 1835 to 1843 he was master of a large studio he inherited from Gros. His pupils included Thomas Couture, Jean-Léon Gérôme and Jean-François Millet. His works are probably the most extensively reproduced of any French artist of the 19th century.
However, despite what Shakespeare says in Richard III, most historians today dismiss the link between the Princes in the Tower and the Rose and Crown in Stony Stratford.