'Athlete struggling with a python', Frederick Leighton, 1877 (this cast 1910)

A black sculpture of a muscular man struggling with a python


Leighton| often made small sculptures as models for his paintings. This, however, was his first large independent bronze group.

Its vigorous modelling, varied surfaces and very naturalistic pose marked a decisive break with the enfeebled classicism still dominant in English sculpture of the time. The design and handling reveals Leighton's enthusiasm for contemporary French sculpture.

The figure was much admired by a group of young British sculptors whose work was later to be called the New Sculpture. Leighton's figure, though, lacks their poetry.

A fine collection of the New Sculpture is held at the Lady Lever Art Gallery in Port Sunlight. Some examples of these works can be seen in the sculpture section| of the Lady Lever website.