The Execution of Lady Jane Grey

Some of you may have seen (or been a part of) the recent Facebook experiment. The status message that asks your friends to dig up a memory of you that is at the tip of your brains. After only a few bothered, it seems my memorial ethos (pun, accidental), would be: conversations, and having them, under the influence or not.

Mighty chuffed, I was, after I read through the memories. There are a million others, which didn’t make it to the experiment’s venue, which however, I treasure with all my might.

These days, it is difficult to have a conversation going; haven’t had one for a while now, except with my artist friend. I don’t quite count IM chats as good conversation, though they tend to be interesting if you can manage the multiple threads caused by the delay, and suffer the typos caused by the difference in the varying speeds of thinking and typing. One such good conversation ensued a couple of days ago, unfortunately on an IM chat.

He and I usually talk of movies. We have had other conversations, likeΒ  “ethics of prevalent business models in the mobile communication services industry”, but, he fails miserably at those and it usually becomes a lecture series from us after a while, when he gives up, and we continue to talk of movies. So, after a moot argument about identifying a movie that excelled in (a) the art of film-making, (b) the presentation, and (c) the story-telling and wafting though elements of photography, lesser known Marathi film directors of yore, influence of critics and analysts on art, we ended up at “The Execution of Lady Jane Grey

It was a lazy Saturday, three years ago, in London, alone, when, with the intention of spending the autumn afternoon at Trafalgar Square, I gingerly made way to the National Gallery that overlooks the square. I always thought of myself as a misfit in art galleries. I don’t understand art a lot (the technical parts), and I have a peeve about critics and analysts who usually tell us what to look for in it. I usually don’t see the way they do, if, I can extract meaning of the words they use to describe what it is all about, i.e. I like things because I like things. But being with an artist for long, certain thoughts and knowledge permeates through and sharpens your vision. In the aimless wandering around the Gallery, I was suddenly flush in front of this huge painting:

The Execution of Lady Jane Grey, Paul Delaroche, 1833

The Execution of Lady Jane Grey, Paul Delaroche, 1833. Source: Wikipedia Commons

It was overwhelming, to say the least. It told a long and intricate story in a single still image. When I wrote to her about this, I could not tell her anything about the painting. How big it was, the play of the light and such details. I could only tell her what I felt — and that I couldn’t explain it well, either. I only wrote that I was stuck on the bench looking at it for a very long time, and I cried.

This is a life changing painting for me. I am still the same as I was on that Saturday afternoon, however, what I have always believed about art became true that day. Art has a very personal meaning and good art is that that touches your soul. To be able to travel to 1553, the painting becomes a portal of sorts. Since then, I have been able to brave an entry into museums more often than I would have. Willingly. This painting opened a world of experience to me. I read a lot about the British history, especially Lady Jane Grey. I saw many other paintings, and found many, from different times, that made meaning. At the same time, I found many that didn’t.

I discovered that a painting or a photograph or music or a book doesn’t do anything to you, as such. It doesn’t do much to change the world, acting as an external force. It only provides an option: to you, to allow it to relate to you, if you will. If the connection doesn’t exist, you will feel nothing about that piece of art. You will only see its colour, brush strokes, and the artist’s intention, if at all.

If the connection exist, it gently evokes a feeling that you need to experience to find a little bit more about yourself.


24 thoughts on “The Execution of Lady Jane Grey

  1. How beautifully intrepeted..and it is the basic truth. There is that instant connection, or they was none to begin with. It holds true for everything that we do and everyone we meet.


  2. If this one evokes such emotion, wonder what Massacre of the Innocents, by Peter Paul Rubens would do to u!
    Vangogh’s Sunflowers just did it for me… to be standing 10 cms away from the actual painting was enough!


  3. This post made me think! I was wondering if I had any turning point painting or landmark in my understanding of art. Was it Rembrandt, Van Gogh or Vermeer? And I came up with a blank! Some speak more than the others as usual. But not one turning point! Does it mean I can still look forward to it? πŸ™‚

    True, you can connect instantly with certain idea/s or people, but I have seen both sides- instance connections that fade because there was no further nourishment and old connections develop new hues.


    • I think “life changing” is a bit over-rated in expectation. The thunderstorms don’t come marching down or anything like that. It can even be a very slow manthan kind of a process. And then, there are many such experiences. Question is, how do we recognise them, if at all?

      Most things die, if not nourished. I doubt if it has anything to do with the nature of a connection (instant or over time).


  4. How nicely put! Some works become the “Holy moments” of your life, even when they are out of it. They move you, move you enough to change the game. Even if by a bit. And so a life of action can be reflected in disjointed works of art that, at times, moved the man.

    I can almost imagine it like a movie scene. A man crosses the road, walks to a place and comes face to face with this image. A perfect plot point! As I said, “Holy moment”. πŸ™‚

    I am not sure if one has an option, to relate to or not. I feel that art does change the world. It moves people, it touches, maybe not all, but some and these touched ones respond, react, reciprocate.

    I doubt if you can have a renaissance without the artist.

    and BTW: I am not as bad a fight @ business as I am made out to be. You just have more experience… hehe


    • You sure are on your way to become a place of pilgrimage, holy man!

      To relate or not is not the option I wrote about, instead, we have the option to “allow” it to relate to us. Else these are just pictures, aren’t they?

      And, acknowledged @ business. Have a question for you. Await.


  5. when I saw this painting I was also mesmerized. I had not much interest in british history and was wandering around the portrait gallery and i couldn’t believe it. the way the painting is so dark and lady jane is wearing the whitest dress, almost like a wedding dress, the irony. and the maids in the corner are so horrified and the expression on her face… it just stopped me in my tracks and I did not want to leave it. I didn’t want to leave her there to be executed.


  6. I had the very same reaction when I saw this painting upon my visit to London in the summer of the year 2000. The painting was so stunning, so haunting, like being present there in that cold stone-walled room about to witness the execution of this innocent young woman whose only crime was an inconvenient lineage. One sees her so bravely accepting her fate, the gruesome event just mere seconds away, the calmness of the executioner about to simply go about his business, the straw places below the block to make the clean-up of the blood a bit easier. Oh the sadness of it was overwhelming. An amazing piece of art that, like a time machine, pulls the viewer so completely to that place and time.


  7. I have this postcard on my desk at work, as I write. I live back in NZ now, having spent over 8 years in London, popping into the National Gallery from time to time and always getting my fix of Lady Jane’s final moments. I, too, love it. This is the only era of ANY history I’m particularly interested in or au fait with, and it undoubtedly helps to appreciate the desperation, horror and beauty of this painting.

    My absolute most favouritest painting ever, FYI, is Botticelli’s Annunciation… but, alas, I don’t get to the Uffizi as often to see that in the flesh.


    • Hello Sarah, Welcome to Gaizabonts! Alas, I haven’t seen the Annunciation (i.e live). I like, “the desperation, horror and beauty of this painting.”, yes, it is all that and more. Very Tense.


  8. I had the exact same reaction when I saw this painting in 2008….was completely stunned by the sheer beauty of it. A terrible scene, but so well-crafted…


  9. I used to go to that gallery a lot as a child and I remember being marked by this painting. It’s engraved into my mind and everytime I look at it I think about how I used to look at as a four or five year old. I was very fascinated by it but it also made me really emotional and everytime I went back to the museum I would always go look for it. It’s a very sad picture but it is my favorite.


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