Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Lord Frederic Leighton (1830-1896)

“At a time when British taste in art tended toward the factual, the narrative, and the moral... Leighton prized above all else"

Lord Frederic Leighton, born December 3, 1830, in Scarborough, Yorkshire, was considered to be one of the most famous British artists of the nineteenth century. He was born into a wealthy medical family where his father was a doctor and his grandfather had served as the primary physician to the Czar of Russia in St. Petersburg. In 1839, Leighton started showing signs of interest in art and became an enthusiastic sketcher. With the cushioning support of his family's wealth, Leighton decided to become an artist and in October 1846 he began formal training. Despite his parent's monetary contributions of allowing Leighton to attend every facility possible to learn drawing, they were worried about his choice of career and strongly discouraged the idea of him being an artist. Due to the lack of encouragement from his family, a lot of Leighton's paintings and drawings reflected a lot of emotion and romanticism. He drew and designed with great ease, rarely having to correct or alter his work and sought to gain complete technical command of the various media of pictorial art. Not only did he produce highly worked pencil drawings which were admired by his contemporaries, he also worked in watercolor, which some considered not suitable for the professional artist.

Frederic Lord Leighton. Cimabue's Madonna is carried in Procession through the Streets of Florence, 1853-33. Oil on canvas, 222 x 521 cm.
In the summer of 1855, Leighton showed one of his great paintings, the Cimabue’s Madonna is carried in Procession through the Streets of Florence, at the Royal Academy’s annual exhibition in London. He was able to sell the painting to Queen Victoria for reportedly 800 pounds, jumpstarting his career and fame. This paining is beautiful, bright, and very detailed. The painting was finished around the same time as the Romeo and Juliet panting, however, it did not reach the same amount of fame as the Madonna painting. Both paintings reflect similar styles of the Victorian taste for being quite large in size with serious themes portraying activities from life. 

Frederic Lord Leighton. The Reconciliation of the Montagues and Capulets over the Dead Bodies of Romeo and Juliet, 1853-55. Oil on canvas, 70 x 91 inches. 

One of the largest and most important of Leighton’s exhibits at the Royal Academy was Lieder ohne Worte (Songs without Words). At this point of his life, Leighton was moving towards an artistic direction dealing with greater abstraction of physical appearances and landscapes so a recognizable time and place would not be able to fully identify the painting. However even with this abstraction, he was quite meticulous about the arrangement of the features in his compositions. This painting is pretty interesting and different from the previous two paintings included above. The subject model looks less realistic and has a classical appeal. The colors in the painting were very controlled and aesthetic in nature. 

Lord Frederic Leighton. Lieder ohne Worte, 1861. Oil on canvas, 1016 x 629 mm.
In 1878, Leighton reached the pinnacle of his profession by being elected President of the Royal Academy of Arts, the highest post in the profession. He carried out his responsibilities with efficiency and polish while integrating into high society. He made a point to encourage the efforts of young aspiring artists unlike what his family did for him. Although he had these new duties, Leighton never let them interfere with his daily routine of drawing on his easel. He then began to move into a new artistic direction by painting figures related to ancient mythology. Gradually, his work became known for their visual beauty and incorporation of luminescent colors and solid figures. His painting the Garden of the Hesperides is classic and very lyrical in style. The subjects in the paintings seem dazed and are arranged in relaxed, sensual poses.

Lord Frederick Leighton. The Garden of the Hesperides, 1892. Oil on canvas, 169 x 169 cm.

In 1896, Frederic was knighted as Lord Leighton, Baron of Stretton. He is the only British artist to have been awarded this honor. Unfortunately three weeks later he died on January 25, 1896, from heart failure and was buried in St. Paul's Cathedral. He never married and subsequently left the contents of his will to his three sisters and rumored to the Royal Academy as well. It was said that his last words were, “Give my love to the Academy.” 

I chose Lord Frederic Leighton because of his unequivocal success as an artist and also because I am fascinated by the Victorian era (being that my name is Victoria). I thought it was extraordinary that the Queen Victoria herself had bought on of his paintings. Even though Leighton did not have much support in his family environment, he was determined to make a career from doing something he loved and I admire his story and persistence to succeeding in life.  


Erin. Art-The Garden of the Hesperides by Leighton. Published December 20, 2011. Web 06 Oct. 2014. <http://www.mythography.com/myth/art-garden-of-the-hesperides/> 

Jones, Stephen; Newall, Christopher; Ormond, Leonee; Ormond, Richard, and Read Benedict. Frederic, Lord Leighton. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Incorporated. 1996. Print.

Newall, Christopher. The Art of Leighton. Oxford: Phaidon Press Limited. 1990. Print.

Ormond, Leonne and Ormond, Richard. Lord Leighton. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. 1975. Print.

Warner, Malcolm. Friendship and Loss in the Victorian Portrait: May Sartoris by Frederic Leighton. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. 2009. Print.

Cimabue's Celebrated Madonna Web 07 Oct. 2014.

Frederic Lord Leighton. The Reconciliation of the Montagues and Capulets over the Dead Bodies of Romeo and Juliet, 1853-55. Web 07 Oct. 2014. <http://www.english.emory.edu/classes/Shakespeare_Illustrated/Leighton.Romeo.html>

Lord Frederick Leighton Biography. Web 06 Oct. 2014. <http://www.frederic-leighton.org/biography.html>

Lord Leighton The Most Important Artist Of The Nineteenth Century. Web 07 Oct. 2014. 

The Garden of the Hesperides. Web 07 Oct. 2014. <http://allart.biz/photos/image/frederic_leighton_5_the_garden_of_the_hesperides.html>

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