Lord Frederic Leighton
(3 December 1830 - 25 January 1896)
Unlike most major artists of the nineteenth century Leighton did not study at the Royal Academy Schools, but received his training in Brussels, Paris and Frankfurt. In 1852 he went to live in Rome, where he moved in a large artistic circle which included Thackeray, Robert Browning and some of the most important French painters of the time.
On his return to England in 1855, his historical painting "Cimabue's Madonna Carried in Procession through the Streets of Florence" was shown at the Royal Academy, where it received a rapturous reception from the critics and was later bought by Queen Victoria. It was the start of what was to be a glittering career that took him to the very heights of his profession.
Leighton settled in London in 1860, and was made an RA in 1868, when he turned to painting subjects from mythology. His decision to abandon historical paintings coincided with a sudden upsurge of interest in Hellenism; even women's evening wear was influenced, Greek gowns that gave women a new-found freedom of movement becoming fashionable.
Leighton suddenly found himself the centre of attention, with his paintings the talk of London. He was elected President of the Royal Academy in 1878, and became a baron in 1896 (full title: Baron Leighton of Stretton), the only English artist to receive this honour. But by then he was a sick man who was suffering from angina. He died in 1896, and after lying in state at the RA, he was buried in St. Paul's Cathedral. His will included a bequest of £10,000 to the Royal Academy. The poet Algernon Swinburne composed a memorial elegy:
'A light has passed that never shall pass away
Although at the time of his death Leighton was something of a national institution, his reputation quickly declined and his work and all that he stood for became objects of derision. It was to be another 60-70 years before his work would come into fashion again.
Leighton's beautiful home at 2 Holland Park Road, South Kensington, London is now a museum - Leighton House. Here you can see the opulence in which Leighton lived, and view paintings by Leighton, Burne-Jones and other Pre-Raphaelite artists, including Mariana in the South (John William Waterhouse) and "The End of the Quest" (Sir Frank Dicksee).
Frederic Leighton received his Art education at the University College School London. He also received legal education on the European continent, first from Edward von Steinle and then from Giovanni Costa. At age 24, while in Florence, Italy, he studied at the Accademia di Belle Arti, he painted the procession of the "Cimabue Madonna" through the Borgo Allegri. He lived in Paris from 1855 to 1859, where he met such great contemporary painters as Ingres, Delacroix, Corot and Millet and Picasso. In 1860, Leighton moved to London, England, where he associated with the Pre-Raphaelite painters. He designed Elizabeth Barrett Browning's tomb for Robert Browning in the 'English' Cemetery, Florence, in 1861. In 1864, he became an associate of the Royal Academy and in 1878, he became its President (1878-96). His paintings represented Britain at the great 1900 Paris Exhibition.
The rich colors and his brilliant handling of fabrics and drapery show a skill and experience few could match. Leighton noted "Combination of expressed motion and rest [are the] source of fascination in drapery - wayward flow & ripple like a living water together with absolute repose".
An account of public reaction to a painting by Leighton, and a number of other works, can be found in the 1905 edition of The Art Journal:
View painter's art: Frederic Leighton (1830-1896)