The Lord Leighton
Frederic Leighton, Self-portrait, 1880
Frederic Leighton

(1830-12-03)3 December 1830
Scarborough, North Riding of Yorkshire, England
Died25 January 1896(1896-01-25) (aged 65)
Kensington, London, England
Known forPainting and sculpture
Notable workFlaming June
MovementAcademicism, Pre-Raphaelite and British Aestheticism
Sir Frederic's signature

Frederic Leighton, 1st Baron Leighton, PRA (3 December 1830 – 25 January 1896), known as Sir Frederic Leighton between 1878 and 1896, was a British Victorian painter, draughtsman, and sculptor. His works depicted historical, biblical, and classical subject matter in an academic style. His paintings were enormously popular and expensive, during his lifetime, but fell out of critical favour for many decades in the early 20th century.[citation needed]

Leighton was the bearer of the shortest-lived peerage in history; after only one day, his hereditary peerage became extinct upon his death.[1]


Flaming June (1895; Museo de Arte de Ponce)
After Vespers (1871; Princeton University Art Museum)

Leighton was born in Scarborough to Augusta Susan and Dr. Frederic Septimus Leighton (1799–1892), a medical doctor. Leighton's grandfather, Sir James Boniface Leighton (1769–1843), had been the primary physician to two Russian tsars—Alexander I and Nicholas I—and their families, and amassed a fortune while in their service.[2] Leighton’s career was always cushioned by this family wealth, with his father paying him an allowance throughout his life.[3] He had two sisters, one of them being Alexandra who was Robert Browning's biographer.[4] He was educated at University College School, London. He then received his artistic training on the European continent, first from Eduard von Steinle and then from Giovanni Costa. At age 17, in the summer of 1847, he met the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer in Frankfurt and drew his portrait, in graphite and gouache on paper—the only known full-length study of Schopenhauer done from life.[5] When he was 24 he was in Florence; he studied at the Accademia di Belle Arti, and painted the procession of the Cimabue Madonna through the Borgo Allegri. From 1855 to 1859 he lived in Paris, where he met Ingres, Delacroix, Corot, and Millet.

Travel was an important part of Leighton’s life from childhood. By his late teens, he was living with his family in Frankfurt, Germany and had already visited many of Europe’s major cities, including Florence and Rome; places which he would return to on a great many occasions over the next decades. By his late twenties, extended periods had been spent living in Rome and then Paris and Leighton had made his first trip outside Europe, travelling to north Africa in 1857. Once settled in London, he continued to make extensive trips on an annual basis until shortly before his death. The countries that Leighton visited on at least one occasion include Austria, Algeria, Egypt, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Lebanon, Morocco, The Netherlands, Scotland, Spain, Switzerland, Syria, and Turkey.

In 1860, he moved to London, where he associated with the Pre-Raphaelites. 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 1877 sculpture, Athlete Wrestling with a Python, was considered at its time to inaugurate a renaissance in contemporary British sculpture, referred to as the New Sculpture. American art critic Earl Shinn claimed at the time that "Except Leighton, there is scarce any one capable of putting up a correct frescoed figure in the archway of the Kensington Museum."[6] His paintings represented Britain at the great 1900 Paris Exhibition.

He was the first President of the Committee commissioning the Survey of London which documented the capital's principal buildings and public art.[7]

Leighton was knighted at Windsor in 1878,[8] and was created a baronet, of Holland Park Road in the Parish of St Mary Abbots, Kensington, in the County of Middlesex, eight years later.[9] He was the first painter to be given a peerage, in the 1896 New Year Honours. The patent creating him Baron Leighton, of Stretton in the County of Shropshire, was issued on 24 January 1896;[10] Leighton died the next day of angina pectoris.

Cimabue's Celebrated Madonna Is Carried in Procession Through the Streets of Florence, 1853–1855
Daphnephoria, oil on canvas painting, 1874–1876, Lady Lever Art Gallery

Leighton remained a bachelor; rumours of him having an illegitimate child with one of his models, in addition to the supposition that Leighton may have been homosexual, continue to be debated.[11] He certainly enjoyed an intense and romantically tinged relationship with the poet Henry William Greville whom he met in Florence in 1856.[12] The older man showered Leighton in letters, but the romantic affection seems not to have been reciprocated. Enquiry is furthermore hindered by the fact that Leighton left no diaries and his letters lack reference to his personal circumstances. No definite primary evidence has yet come to light that effectively dispels the secrecy that Leighton built up around himself, although it is clear that he did court a circle of younger men around his artistic studio.[11]

On his death his barony was extinguished after existing for only a day; this is a record in the Peerage. His house in Holland Park, London has been turned into a museum, the Leighton House Museum. It contains many of his drawings and paintings, as well as some of his former art collection including works by Old Masters and his contemporaries such as a painting dedicated to Leighton by Sir John Everett Millais. The house also features many of Leighton's inspirations, including his collection of Iznik tiles. (see Iznik pottery) Its centrepiece is the magnificent Arab Hall. The Hall is featured in issue ten of Cornucopia.[13] A blue plaque commemorates Leighton at Leighton House Museum.[14]

Artists Rifles

Sir Frederic Leighton by George Frederic Watts (1881)
Sir Frederic Leighton, later in his career.
A sacrifice to the Graces, caricature for Vanity Fair by James Tissot, 1872

Leighton was an enthusiastic volunteer soldier, enrolling with the first group to join the 38th Middlesex (Artists') Rifle Volunteer Corps (later to be known as the Artists Rifles) on 5 October 1860.

His qualities of leadership were immediately identified, and he was promoted to command a Company within a few months. On 6 January 1869 Captain Leighton was elected to command the Artists Rifles by a general meeting of the corps. In the same year he was promoted to major and in 1875 to lieutenant colonel. Leighton resigned as commanding officer in 1883. The painter James Whistler famously described the then Sir Frederic Leighton, the commanding officer of the Artists Rifles, as the: "Colonel of the Royal Academy and the President of the Artists Rifles – aye, and he paints a little!" At his funeral, on 3 February 1896, his coffin was carried into St Paul's Cathedral,[15] past a guard of honour formed by the Artists Rifles.[16]


Selected works


See also


  1. ^ Leigh Rayment (1 September 2015). "Peerage Records". Leigh Rayment's Peerage Page. Archived from the original on 23 March 2016.((cite web)): CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  2. ^ "Biography of Lord Frederick Leighton". ARC. Retrieved 4 October 2022.
  3. ^ "Frederic Leighton". RBKC. Retrieved 4 October 2022.
  4. ^ "Orr [née Leighton], Alexandra". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. 2004. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/35332. ISBN 978-0-19-861412-8. Retrieved 30 April 2017. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  5. ^ Crowther, Paul, and Miruna Cuzman. "A Rediscovered Contemporary Full-Length Sketch-Portrait of Schopenhauer by Frederic, Lord Leighton." Schopenhauer Jahrbuch, 92 Band, Konigshausen und Neumann, 2011: 301–306.
  6. ^ Shinn, Earl (1880). The World's Art: From the International Exhibition. Lovering.
  7. ^ "Members of the Survey Committee Pages 4-7 Survey of London Monograph 12". British History Online. Guild & School of Handicraft, London, 1926. Retrieved 30 December 2022.
  8. ^ "No. 24651". The London Gazette. 29 November 1878. p. 6695.
  9. ^ "No. 25551". The London Gazette. 22 January 1886. p. 328.
  10. ^ "No. 26705". The London Gazette. 31 January 1896. p. 587.
  11. ^ a b Emanuel Cooper, The Sexual Perspective: Homosexuality and Art in the Last 100 Years in the West, 2005
  12. ^ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography vol 33
  13. ^ Cornucopia 10, Ingres and Lady Mary Montagu, Leighton House, yurts, the Lycians plus elegant eggplant. Retrieved on 20 February 2011.
  14. ^ "LEIGHTON, FREDERICK, LORD LEIGHTON (1830–1896)". English Heritage. Retrieved 1 July 2012.
  15. ^ "Memorials of St Paul's Cathedral" Sinclair, W. p. 469: London; Chapman & Hall, Ltd; 1909.
  16. ^ Barry Gregory. A History of The Artists Rifles 1859–1947. Pen & Sword. 2006.
  17. ^ Frederic, Lord Leighton | Cimabue's Celebrated Madonna | L275 | The National Gallery, London. Retrieved on 20 February 2011.
  18. ^ Tate Collection | Study for 'The Discovery of Juliet Apparently Lifeless'. Retrieved on 20 February 2011.
  19. ^ Frederic, Lord Leighton | The Villa Malta, Rome | L851 | The National Gallery, London. Retrieved on 20 February 2011.
  20. ^ Artwork Page: Actaea, the Nymph of the Shore Archived 28 August 2004 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved on 20 February 2011.
  21. ^ Tate Collection | An Athlete Wrestling with a Python by Frederic, Lord Leighton. Retrieved on 20 February 2011.
  22. ^ Archived 3 July 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  23. ^ "Leeds Art Gallery, listings". Archived from the original on 30 November 2016. Retrieved 28 September 2016.

General references

External videos
video icon Leighton's An Athlete Wrestling with a Python, Smarthistory
Cultural offices Preceded bySir Francis Grant President of the Royal Academy 1878–1896 Succeeded bySir John Everett Millais, Bt Peerage of the United Kingdom New creation Baron Leighton 24–25 January 1896 Extinct Baronetage of the United Kingdom New creation Baronet(of St Mary Abbots) 1886–1896 Extinct