My Favourite Painting: Giles Deacon

'I presume the pristine dress and clean straw are to intensify the imminent bloody scene to follow'

The Execution of Lady Jane Grey, 1833, 97in by 116in, by Paul Delaroche (1797–1856), The National Gallery, London. Bridgeman Images.

Giles Deacon says:
‘I first came across this painting when studying at Central St Martin’s in 1989. What fascinated me was the eerie manner in which Jane is blindfolded in a satin dress surrounded by ladies-in-waiting as a relaxed executioner creates a very clean scene for what is about to occur; I presume the pristine dress and clean straw are to intensify the imminent bloody scene to follow. I like the prevailing calm before the storm and find the colours continually arresting.’

Giles Deacon is a fashion designer. His BT ArtBox will be auctioned at the National Portrait Gallery for ChildLine’s 25th Anniversary today.

Art critic John McEwen comments:
‘In 1928, the Tate was flooded by the Thames. Jane Grey was one of 18 stored oil paintings listed as ‘completely spoiled’. They were left as written-off rolls until, 45 years later, Christopher Johnstone, a young Tate curator, inadvertently unearthed Jane Grey, which proved to be in almost pristine condition. The pictures’ neglect reflected that, even before the flood, they had been designated ‘not of primary importance’. Hence Jane Grey’s demotion from the National Gallery, to which it had been bequeathed in 1902, to the National Gallery Millbank, as the Tate was first named.

Today, reinstated at the Trafalgar Square HQ, the constantly revarnished floor at its foot is testimony to the picture being one of the most popular in the entire collection. The same was true when it was first shown in 1834. It caused a sensation at the Paris Salon, placing Delaroche on a par with his contemporaries Ingres and Delacroix. His specialising in subjects from English history prolonged his reputation here until the turn of the century. In England, he remained the supreme French painter of the 19th century and he has pride of place in the Podium of Painters frieze on the Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens.

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The scholarly Lady Jane Grey, Edward VI’s second cousin and named by him as his successor in preference to his half-sisters Mary and Elizabeth, was no lamb to the slaughter, despite being only 16. Queen for nine days following Edward’s death, she was deposed and executed by the Catholic Mary, but ascended the gallows a resolute Protestant martyr.’

This article was first published in Country Life, July 18, 2012