Monday, January 26, 2015

Frederic Leighton

oil on canvas
104 x 212 cm
private collection

Frederic Leighton (1830-1896) was an English painter and sculptor. He was a  sophisticated, cosmopolitan, classical painter producing highly finished pictures, and was also an excellent portraitist. Throughout his life he was energetic, and hardworking, and his inability to take life more easily when in his sixties accelerated his death. His works depicted historical, biblical, and classical subject matter.

He was born in Scarborough to a family in the import and export business. He was educated at University College School, London. He then received his artistic training on the European continent. When he was 24 he was in Florence and studied at the Accademia di Belle Arti. From 1855 to 1859 he lived in Paris, where he met Ingres, Delacroix, Corot and Millet. In 1860, he moved to London, where he associated with the Pre-Raphaelites. In 1864 he became an associate of the Royal Academy and in 1878 he became its President.  His paintings represented Britain at the great 1900 Paris Exhibition.

He was the first painter to be given a peerage and was bearer of the shortest-lived peerage in history; after only one day his hereditary peerage ended with his death. His funeral was at St. Paul's Cathedral. Leighton's magnificent home Leighton House, is now a museum. He remained a bachelor and rumours of his having an illegitimate child with one of his models in addition to the supposition that he may have been homosexual continue to be debated today. 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.

He was an enthusiastic volunteer soldier, enrolling with the first group to join the 38th Middlesex (Artists) Rifle volunteers in 1860. His qualities of leadership were immediately identified and he was promoted to command A Company within a few months. In 1869 Captain Leighton was elected to command The Artists Rifles. In the same year he was promoted to Major and in 1875 to Lieutenant Colonel.