Friday, April 26, 2013

Leighton, Frederic

Portrait of May Sartoris
oil on canvas
152.1 x 90.2 cm
Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, TX, USA

This painting is an expression of Leighton's remarkable friendship with May’s mother, celebrated opera singer Adelaide Sartoris. The young Leighton frequented Adelaide’s artistic and literary salon in Rome in the early 1850s, and was on intimate terms with her by the time he painted her daughter’s likeness around 1860. By her marriage to the banker Edward Sartoris, Adelaide had three children, Greville, Mary Theodosia (May) and Algernon. May Sartoris was only nine years old when Leighton produced this wistful likeness of her.

Sir Frederic Leighton (1830 - 1896) was an English painter and sculptor who was President of the Royal Academy for almost two decades. The leading establishment figure in Victorian art, was the first artist to be ennobled. He was a classical painter producing highly finished pictures, and was also an excellent portraitist. He was a sophisticated, cosmopolitan figure, much of his early life having been spent in Germany and Italy. Throughout his life he was energetic, and hardworking, and his inability to take life more easily when in his sixties accelerated his death.  His funeral was at St. Paul's Cathedral. Leighton's magnificent home Leighton House, is now a museum.

Leighton was a lifelong bachelor. In later life his favorite model was Ada Alice Pullen, known as Dorothy Dene. George Bernard Shaw knew them both, and it is likely that they were the models for Professor Higgins and Eliza Doolitlle in Pygmalion.