Lord Leighton PRA (1830 - 1896)

RA Collection: People and Organisations

Known for his popular paintings of historical, mythological and religious subjects, Frederic, Lord Leighton served as President of the Royal Academy for 18 years.

Born in Yorkshire to wealthy parents, Leighton spent his late teens and early twenties travelling around Europe, studying at various academies in Italy, Germany and France. In 1855, he made his first submission to the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition, Cimabue’s Celebrated Madonna. The subject comes from the writings of the Renaissance painter and art historian Giorgio Vasari, who described Cimabue’s Rucellai Madonna being carried in procession from the painter’s house to the church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence. On the opening day of the exhibition Leighton’s painting was bought by Queen Victoria, establishing Leighton as an important new arrival on the London art scene. The painting is now on display at the National Gallery on loan from the Royal Collection.

Despite his early success, Leighton remained something of an outsider for a time perhaps because of his Continental training and connections. He was elected an Associate Member of the Royal Academy in 1864 after putting his name forward for election on several previous occasions. Over the following years, he successfully forged close friendships with artists both inside and outside the Academy and continued to regularly exhibit impressive paintings of classicising subjects like The Daphnephoria. In 1868 he became a full Royal Academician and presented St Jerome as his Diploma work.

Leighton produced both paintings and sculptures. In both cases he produced numerous preparatory drawings and also made plaster models on which he could drape fabric and study the effects of drapery on the figures. Leighton’s 1878 sculpture, An Athlete Wrestling with a Python has been retrospectively heralded as the beginning of the “New Sculpture” movement, which sought to imbue sculpture with a new sense of dynamism and naturalism.

In the late 1860s, Leighton built a lavish studio home in west London, encouraging several other leading artists to follow him. Fellow Royal Academicians G.F. Watts RA, Val Prinsep RA and Hamo Thornycroft RA were among the artists who formed the “Holland Park Circle”.

In 1878, Leighton was elected President of the Royal Academy, cementing his position at the centre of London’s art world. By the 1880s he also served on the advisory boards of the British Museum, the National Portrait Gallery and the Sir John Soane’s Museum.

Leighton was knighted in 1878 and in 1896 became the first painter to be given a peerage. Sadly, this was a short-lived honour as the artist died the following day. His last words were “My love to the Academy”. After an elaborate funeral arranged by the Royal Academy, Leighton was buried at St Paul’s Cathedral. His home in Holland Park has been preserved as the Leighton House Museum.


Royal Academician

Born: 3 December 1830 in Scarborough, Yorkshire, England, United Kingdom

Died: 25 January 1896

Nationality: British

Elected ARA: 20 July 1864

Elected RA: 30 June 1868

President from: 1878 - 1896

Gender: Male

Preferred media: Painting, Sculpture, and Illustration

Works by Lord Leighton in the RA Collection

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Works after Lord Leighton in the RA Collection

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Works associated with Lord Leighton in the RA Collection

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Associated books

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Associated archives

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