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Frederic, Lord Leighton

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Frederic, Lord Leighton Biography


Scarborough 1830 - 1896 London


The English painter and sculptor Frederic Leighton (nicknamed Jupiter Olympus by Edward Burne-Jones) was the established leader of the Victorian Neo-Classical School of painting.  Born in Scarborough, Yorkshire in 1830, he was brought up initially in London attending University College School from 1840-41. The son of a Doctor (Frederic Septimus Leighton), Frederic spent most of his youth travelling on the Continent with his family due to his mother’s ill health (Augusta Susan Nash).  They settled briefly in Berlin, Frankfurt, Florence, Brussels and Paris, where Leighton was enrolled in various art schools, returning to the Städelsches Kunstinstitut in Frankfurt between 1850-2, where he studied under the Nazarene artist, Edward von Steinle (1810-1886). 


Leighton travelled to Rome in 1852 and became friendly with Giovanni Costa and George Heming Mason, who later became leading figures of the Etruscans.  While in Rome, he began work on Cimabue’s Celebrated Madonna Carried in Procession through the streets of Florence, his first Royal Academy picture, exhibited in 1855, and bought by Queen Victoria.  The reception of this picture heralded the start of an incredibly successful career which took him to the heights of his profession.


From 1855-59, Leighton was based in Paris where he met Jean-August-Dominique Ingres and Eugène Delacroix, as well as Ary Scheffer and Joseph Nicholas Robert-Fleury.  These years marked a period of transition for the artist from his early devotion to the Nazarenes to incorporate a broader combination of influences including the painterly effects and colouring of Venetian art, the Realist landscapes of Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot and classical subject matter.


Leighton also travelled to North Africa and the Near East between 1857 and 1882.  It was following his stay in Damascus in 1873 that he began to include decorative Eastern accessories in his work, as well as building the Arab Hall in his house at Holland Park from 1877-79, which is now Leighton House Museum.  In the 1860 Leighton settled in London and moved towards painting scenes of classical mythology, which coincided with a rising interest in Hellenic art.  Leighton’s interest in Hellenic art also informed his representations of the idealised nude in sculpture, such as Athlete Wrestling with a Python, 1877.


Frederic Leighton became a Royal Academician in 1868, was elected President of the RA in 1878 and was increasingly thought of as leader of the Victorian art establishment until his death in 1896.  He was also knighted in 1878, made Baronet in 1886 and was raised to the peerage in 1896 just before his death – the only English artist to be accorded this honour.  After lying in state at the RA, he was buried in St Paul’s Cathedral. 


The work of Frederic, Lord Leighton is represented in Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery; Manchester City Art Gallery; Leighton House Museum, the National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, the Royal Academy of Arts, Tate Britain, the Victoria & Albert Museum and The Royal Collection, London; the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Kimbell Art Museum, Texas, amongst others. 


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