Throughout his career Leighton painted a series of idealised female heads, each displaying a particular emotion by means of pose, facial expression, accessories, colour and tonality. The title of this painting, 'An Elegy', refers to a song or verse written in memory of someone or something lost. The downward glance and distracted air of the young woman in this painting suggest she is in mourning. In 1889, Leighton was President of the Royal Academy, a position he held from 1878 until his death. Seeing this painting, a contemporary reviewer proclaimed that it ‘excels most of the President’s numerous pictures of this class’. Leighton possessed extraordinary skill in his handling of gauze-like, translucent surfaces. This is demonstrated in the draperies and in the textures of skin and hair. His technique required the pigment to be diluted with a glazing medium. This achieved a fragile and spiritual portrayal of his female subjects.