Sketches for an early version of 'Electra at the Tomb of Agamemnon', Probably 1860s
Lord Leighton PRA (1830 - 1896)
RA Collection: Art
This group includes forty-one sketchbooks used by Frederic, Lord Leighton from the 1850s to the 1890s. The sketchbooks feature drawings of figures, landscapes and architecture, often produced on Leighton's travels in Europe and the Near East, as well as his sketches for compositions and his research notes for lectures and exhibitions.
The earliest sketchbooks in the group cover the year 1852-1853 when Leighton travelled from Frankfurt to study in Rome. These two sketchbooks combined follow his journey through Italy, via Venice, Padua and various towns in Tuscany and Umbria to Rome then back again in the summer of 1853 through Italy to the German spa of Bad Gleisweiler. Several similar sketchbooks date from the mid to late 1850s when Leighton was living in Paris and include sketches from his visits to Algeria, Rome and other locations as well as compositional sketches for paintings including the portrait of May Sartoris (c.1860) and 'Samson and Delilah' (c.1858). The observational drawings in Leighton's 1850s and 60s sketchbooks are often very precise, delicate pencil studies while his compositional sketches are usually more freely drawn.
The sketchbooks which Leighton used in the late 1860s clearly demonstrate the importance of this period in the development of his career. It was at this stage that he decided to focus almost exclusively on subjects from Greek mythology and a number of the figure sketches, compositions and inscriptions in these sketchbooks relate to subjects that Leighton did not actually paint until many years later. One, for instance, features sketches from Leighton's visit to Egypt in 1868 depicting figures that he later developed for his major work 'Captive Andromache' in 1888.
The sketchbooks in use in the 1870s and 80s are similar to those of the late '60s, featuring small figure sketches and thumbnail compositions. The development of various late works can be traced, for instance the drawings of a woman undressing which inform 'The Bath of Psyche' (c. 1889-90) and other compositions. There are also further travel sketchbooks dating from this period, such as the one Leighton used while visiting Co. Donegal, Ireland in 1874. The coastal sketches made at this time provided Leighton with the dramatic background to 'Perseus and Andromeda' (1891) which he painted more than fifteen years later.
Many of the sketchbooks, particularly the later ones, also include significant passages of text. These inscriptions fall into three main categories, all of which relate closely to Leighton's duties at the Royal Academy, as an Academician and subsequently as President of the institution. They include research notes on private art collections for loans to the RA Winter exhibitions, his notes on art, architectural and cultural history for his Presidential Discourses at the Royal Academy and more general notes on art theory and technique which probably relate to his role as a teacher at the Academy Schools. Three of the later sketchbooks are exclusively given over to notes for Leighton's Discourses of 1889 and 1893, while many of the sketchbooks from the 1870s and 1880s combine large numbers of drawings alongside musings on art history, theory and technique, and research notes for the Winter exhibitions.
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