Benjamin Williams Leader
Oil on board: 14(h) x 18(w) in / 35.6(h) x 45.7(w) cm
Signed and dated lower left: B.W. Leader / 1858; signed, dated and inscribed on the reverse: "Bluebells"/ B.W. Leader 1858
BENJAMIN WILLIAMS LEADER RA
Reading 1831 - 1923 Shere, Surrey
Signed and dated lower left:
B.W. Leader / 1858; signed, dated and inscribed on the reverse: “Bluebells”/ B.W. Leader. 1858
Oil on board: 14 x 18 in / 35.5 x 45.5 cm
Frame size: 21 x 25 in / 53.3 x 63.5 cm
Sold by the artist to Henry Ingram, 1859
Richard Green, London, 1999
Private collection, UK
Richard Green, London, 2001
Private collection, USA
London, National Institute Portland Gallery, 1859
Artist’s stock book, 1859
This work has been catalogued by Ruth Wood, author of B W Leader RA 1831-1923, 1998 the leading monograph on the artist.
This painting shows the woodland near the village of Albury. It was painted after Leader’s first visit to this picturesque part of Surrey in 1858. This is a beautifully light and refreshing scene, with the forest floor carpeted with indigo bluebells.
Born as Benjamin Williams, he added the surname Leader, his father's middle name, to distinguish himself from the Williams family. Upon abandoning a profession in engineering for art, he became a pupil at the Royal Academy in 1853. The following year he showed his first picture there, and continued to exhibit prolifically up until his death in 1923. He achieved notable success with his painting, February Fill Dyke exhibited in 1881. It remains one of the most famous Victorian paintings, and is a tribute to Leader's artistic talents. The Royal Academy elected him an associate in 1883, and academician in 1898. He also exhibited abroad, winning the gold medal and the legion of honour in Paris in 1889.
Leader was extremely popular in Victorian times and his work sold for high prices. Today he is recognized as one of the most accomplished Victorian landscape artists of his day. He usually chose scenes from the Midlands and the Thames valley, although he was also partial to Welsh landscapes, especially around Bettws-y-Coed.
His earlier work reflects his admiration of the Pre-Raphaelites, however, he later developed a broader, more naturalistic style. A realistic feeling of space and a lightness of atmosphere are characteristic of his work. James Dafforne, the contemporary art critic of the Art Journal, praised his work in glowing terms in 1871: ‘his style is a happy medium between excess of detail and over elaboration on the one hand, and a dash of execution on the other...we regard Mr. Leader as one of our best landscape painters.’
The work of Leader is represented in the Aberdeen Art Gallery and Museum, the Birmingham City Art Gallery, the Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery, the Towneley Hall Art Gallery, Burnley, the Bristol City Art Gallery, the Ferens Art Gallery, Kingston-upon-Hull, the Guildhall Art Gallery, the Royal Academy of Arts, the Tate Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, the Manchester City Art Gallery, the Mappin Art Gallery, Sheffield, the Atkinson Art Gallery, Southport, the Royal Holloway and Bedford New College collection, Surrey and the Worcester City Art Ga