Monday, August 23, 2010

Ernest Crofts - Whitehall: January 30th, 1649

Price Realized £47,800

signed and dated 'E Crofts. 1890' (lower right)
oil on canvas
66 1/8 x 51 in. (168 x 129.5 cm.)

London, Royal Academy, 1890, no. 216.
Paris, Exposition Universelle, 1900, no. 60, lent by Marcus van Raalte.
London, Franco-British Exhibition, 1908, no. 342, lent by Mrs Charles van Raalte.

The dignity and self control with which King Charles I met his death resulted in a martyrology without parallel in English history. Anxious not to shiver and appear afraid he wore two shirts to protect himself from the chill of the January morning. He then passed through Inigo Jones's Banqueting House, Whitehall, and under the Rubens ceiling which he himself had commissioned, and onto the scaffold. His last reported word to William Juxon, Bishop of London, who accompanied him to offer the last consolations of religion, was 'Remember'.

Like other tragic heroes and heroines, Mary Queen of Scots, Montrose, Marie Antoinette and others, Charles I was a popular subject in Victorian painting. Indeed, commenting on Crofts R.A. exhibit of 1883, no. 1502, Charles I on his way to execution, Leslie Stephen, who had been reviewing for twenty-three years could not refrain from remarking wearily that 'it would be a relief could one hope that Charles I will not go to execution again'. However, it was recognised that in the present picture, Crofts had produced, as Sir Isidore Spielman noted, the 'climax to his Stuart cycle'. Several reviewers commented, not all favourably, on the dramatic nature of the composition. The Art Journal expressed surprise that 'In depicting an event of such tremendous moment, it would be imagined that the central group - composed of the Royal Martyr, his attendants and his executioners - would be so emphasised by its position and its rendering, as to attract all eyes. But no: the entire foreground is recognised by a seething crowd of armed men, while the protagonists of the historic drama are reduced to the dimensions and the importance of mere diminutive puppets'. And yet Crofts has depicted the scene as it would undoubtedly have been viewed by the troops: the crowd was allowed nowhere near the scaffold, and the sole Royalist in the picture, lower left, has a sword raised against him by the Roundhead officer. Commentators consistently praised such characteristic incidents in Crofts's work, as well as his skill in the rendering of armour.

Crofts was a disciple of Meissonier, and like him specialised in the depiction of battle scenes. In addition to envisaging scenes from the English Civil War, he also depicted episodes from the Napoleonic and Franco-Prussian Wars. Several of his works are in public collections: The Evening of the Battle of Waterloo is in the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool. In 1898 he succeeded Philip Hermogenes Calderon as Keeper of the Royal Academy.

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