A Scene from Shakespeare's Henry VIII; Cardinal Wolsey and Katherine of Aragon
(Eugène-Marie-François Deveria)


The Devéria brothers, Achille and Eugène, were very well known in Paris of the 1820s and `30s, not only for their work as artists but also for their involvement in progressive Romantic circles. Achille, who worked most memorably in the medium of lithography, specialized in genre subjects and portraiture, while Eugène was the more serious history painter. He was a student of Girodet and made a sensational Salon debut in 1827 with his Birth of Henri IV, which, as far as his critics were concerned, he was never able to live up to. This painting, though dating from much later in his career, recalls Devéria’s earlier romantic style which elicited comparisons to Veronese because of the artist’s rich palette and painterly style. [1]

Subjects from British history, particularly as told in the plays of William Shakespeare, held a fascination for many of the Romantic writers with whom Devéria was acquainted, so it is logical that he should have tapped this resource for pictorial subject matter. Achille had depicted Shakespeare productions in Paris, in 1827, and, in 1835, did a series of lithographs illustrating The VI Wives of Henry VIII. [2] Devéria’s renewed interest in British historical subject matter may have been the result of voyages to England and Scotland in the 1850s. [3]

Katherine of Aragon was the first wife of Henry VIII. Unfortunately only a daughter, the future Queen Mary, survived infancy and Henry’s desire for a male heir impelled him to reject her and invent spurious grounds for an annulment. Thomas Cardinal Wolsey, the Lord Chancellor of England, attempted to persuade Pope Clement VII to grant the King’s request, but the Queen’s refusal to cooperate proved a solid impediment. His failure in this endeavor led not only to Wolsey’s fall from power in 1529, but also eventually to the break between Henry VIII and the papacy and to the English Reformation. In 1533, after he had married Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII had Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury who lead the English Church into Protestantism, declare the marriage to Katherine invalid. Katherine never accepted the legality of this act, and the Catholic Church always considered Henry’s subsequent children illegitimate.

The Tudors, as rivals of the Catholic Stuarts with strong French ties, were not popular among the French. That Cardinal Wolsey was a particularly unpopular figure is clear from this picture. Greedy, amibitous and unchaste he was a poor representative of the Catholic Church. Furthermore, he led England in successful expeditions against France. Though this is a historical subject, the artist has been directly inspired by the dramatic treatment of Shakespeare. [4] In Act III, scene 1 of All is True (Henry VIII) the Cardinals Wolsey and Campeius, ushered by Griffith, have entered Queen Katherine’s chambers. Cardinal Wolsey has asked Katherine to withdraw into her private chamber and she tells him to speak in the presence of all : “There’s nothing I have done yet, o’ my conscience, Deserves a corner.” … “Truth loves open dealing.” They are trying to convince her to give up her title of Queen, but she replies: “Nothing but death /Shall e’er divorce my dignities.”

The Musée des Beaux-Arts, Le Havre owns a much smaller (70 x 51 cm) version of this picture, which was exhibited in the Musée de l’Ain’s pioneering Troubadour exhibition [5] and in the 1965 Devéria exhibition [6] as the 1859 Salon picture. Given the much larger dimensions of the present picture and the fact that it is signed and dated (while the Le Havre version is not), it is most likely that this is the picture which Devéria sent to the Salon.

[1]Philippe Comte, “La naissance d’Henri IV de Devéria,” La Revue du Louvre, 2 (1981), pp.143-4.

[2]Diane Sue Russcol, English Historical Themes in French Painting c.1815-1848, Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, 1985, p. 92-3.

[3]Russcol, op. cit., 103.

[4]The Salon livret describes the painting as follows: Une scène de l’Henri VIII de Shakespear.

Wolsey. Vous plait-il, noble dame, de passer dans votre appartement? Nous vous donnerons connaissance du motif qui nous amène.

La Reine Catherine. Parlez ici. Je n’ai encore sur la conscience rien qui necessite de secret; je voudrais que toute autre femme pût parler aven la même liberté d’âme. (Acte III, scène i)

[5]Musée de l’Ain, Brou, Le Style Troubadour, 1971 exhibition, cat. no. 20.

[6]Musée des Beaux-Arts, Pau, Eugène Devéria, 1965 exhibition, no. 72.

57 1/2 by 46 1/2 inches; 146.1 by 118.1 cm.
Oil on canvas

Literature: P. Lafond, Eugène Devéria et son Journal inédit, Paris 1896, p. 12; Anceley, La vie pyréneenne d’Eugene Devéria, Pau, 1940, p. 119, 121, 124


Exhibited: Paris, Salon, 1859.
Matthiesen Gallery and Stair Sainty Matthiesen, ‘Romance & Chivalry’, 1996-7

Where is It?
Stair Sainty Matthiesen
Historical Period
Romanticism - 1810-1870
Historical events
1996-Romance and Chivalry: History and Literature reflected in Early Nineteenth Century French Painting.
Hardback book. 300 pages, fully illustrated with 90 colour plates and 100 black and white illustrations. Introduction (40 pages) by Guy Stair Sainty, twelve essays, catalogue, appendix of salons 1801-24 and bibliography. £50 or $80 inc. p.& p.

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Price band
$50,000 - $100,000