Frederic Leighton

English painter (1830 - 1896) and sculptor of classical and historical subjects and a leading figure in the Victorian art establishment.

Leighton - urbane, cosmopolitan, charming - and President of the Royal Academy from 1878 until his death in 1896, - was the most influential of Victorian Classical painters. 'Jupiter Olympus' was the nickname given to him by the artist Edward Burne-Jones (1833 - 1898). Trained in Frankfurt, Rome and Berlin, Leighton was steeped in continental Academic practice. His first master was the German 'Nazarene' artist Edward von Steinle (1810 - 1886).

Leighton was born in Scarborough, Yorkshire and was brought up initially in London. At an early age his wealthy and well educated family started travelling in Europe seeking improvement for his mother's poor health. Thus Leighton had the opportunity to learn European languages (German, Italian and French) and was introduced to the art and architecture of the European capitals.

His father wanted young Leighton to follow his career as a doctor and gave him careful instruction in human anatomy, beneficial to his future career as a painter.

Leighton's early pictures from between 1852 and 1863 show the influence on his art of the Nazarenes and the Pre-Raphaelites. His early subjects were chosen from the writings of Dante (1265 - 1321), William Shakespeare (1564 - 1616), Giovanni Boccaccio (1313 - 1375) and Giorgio Vasari (1511 - 1574). Leighton also studied fifteenth century frescoes in Florence, especially those by Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449 - 1494) and Benozzo Gozzoli (1421 - 1497).

The Walker Art Gallery's painting, 'An Italian Crossbowman' (WAG 2881), was made by Leighton in 1863, early in his career. Leighton was also producing illustrations for the author George Eliot's (1819 - 1898) 'Romola' - a novel about late fifteenth century Florence.

Leighton studied in Paris between 1855-8. He modified his style, producing a group of more overtly Classical pictures redolent of the nudes of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780 - 1867) and contemporary French Classical art. In addition he painted several portraits and 'fancy pictures' that evoke the richness of Venetian sixteenth century art and in particular the pictures of the Veronese.

The Walker's painting 'Elijah in the Wilderness' (WAG 147) was made in 1878 and is representative of Leighton's more austere Classical manner. The hard-edged figures with well-developed muscles show the influence of Michelangelo (1475 - 1564). 'An Elegy' (WAG 897), made in 1889, by contrast is a small-scale fancy picture with softer drapery and a dreamy mood - closer in spirit to the 'Aesthetic' concerns of Albert Moore (1841 - 1893) and others.

'Perseus and Andromeda' (WAG 129) was made in 1892 and is set on the rocky coast of Donegal near Malin Head. The painting is a fusion of all of Leighton's mature interests, a grand heroic subject, with superbly modulated colour.

Leighton also made sculptures including the bronze 'Athlete Struggling with a Python' (WAG 4155) that was made between 1874-7. It is usually regarded as heralding the arrival of 'New Sculpture'. Although the athlete's figure is idealized, Leighton uses rugged faceted surfaces and planes which catch the light and give it heightened reality.
  • Gender
  • Relationship
  • Nationality
    British: English
  • Born
  • Place of birth
    Europe: Northern Europe: UK: England: Yorkshire: Scarborough
  • Died
  • Place of death
    Europe: Northern Europe: UK: England: London
  • Cause of death
    Unknown or unrecorded

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