Later Victorian Portraits Catalogue

Frederic Leighton, Baron Leighton (1830-1896), Painter and President of the Royal Academy

Painter and PRA; born 3 December 1830 in Scarborough. Studied at the Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt (under Edward von Steinle from 1850) and also in Rome and Paris; first exhibited work, Cimabue’s Celebrated Madonna (RA 1855); returned to London in summer 1859; throughout 1860s developed characteristic strain of aestheticism, producing scenes from the classical past and occasionally anchoring his work around a type of subjectless classicism; Lieder Ohne Worte (RA 1861); elected ARA 1864, RA 1868; moved into 2 Holland Park Road, Kensington, a modest villa built for him by George Aitchison 1866 (first commissioned 1864); travelled extensively through Europe and the Middle East in the late 1860s and 1870s, and made detailed oil sketches; Greek Girls Picking Pebbles by the Sea (RA 1871); Hercules Wrestling with Death for the Body of Alcestis (RA 1871); Lieut.-Col. 20th Middlesex (Artists’) Rifle Volunteers 1876–83; commissioned Aitchison to create an Arab hall (modelled on the palace of La Ziza in Palermo) as an extension to his home 1877; Athlete Struggling with a Python (RA 1877); PRA 1878, knighted in the same year; President of the International Jury of Painting, Exposition Universelle, Paris, 1878; Hon. LL D, Cambridge 1879; Trustee of the National Portrait Gallery (by virtue of his role as PRA) 1880–95; created a baronet 1886; Commander of the Legion of Honour 1889; Flaming June (RA 1895); created Baron Leighton of Stretton 1 January 1896 (the only English artist to have been accorded this honour); died 25 January 1896, as a result of angina, at Leighton House, London.

In 1870, Benjamin Disraeli based a character in his novel, Lothair, upon the then 40-year-old Leighton. In describing the painter Gaston Phoebus, Disraeli manages to capture something of Leighton’s good looks and air of good fortune:

His appearance was striking … his form, athletic though lithe and symmetrical, was crowned by a countenance aquiline but delicate, and from many circumstances of a remarkable radiancy. The lustre of his complexion, the fire of the eye, and his chestnut hair in profuse curls, contributed much to this dazzling effect.[1]

Elizabeth Heath

Footnotesback to top

1) Disraeli, B., Lothair, Leipzig, 1870, vol.1, p.273.

Referencesback to top

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