Frederic Leighton

Frederic Leighton (Scarborough, 3 December 1830 - London, 25 January 1896) was a celebrated English painter and sculptor of the Victorian era. His themes included historical and Biblical subjects and scenes from Greek and Roman mythology. Based on his choice of subjects and style, he has been associated, albeit loosely, with the Pre-Raphaelites.

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Leighton was born into a well-to-do family. His grandfather was a doctor at the Russian court in St Petersburg and had made a fortune. His father was also a doctor.

In 1825, the family left Russia and then travelled around Europe, bringing the young Leighton into early contact with international artistic expressions. He attended University College School in London, but received his artistic training on the mainland, in Berlin, Brussels, Paris and Frankfurt.

In 1852, he went to Rome and moved in artist circles, where he became acquainted with William Makepeace Thackeray and Robert Browning, among others. Later, in 1861, he would be commissioned by Elizabeth Barrett Browning to design the tomb for her husband in the English cemetery in Florence.

In Rome, he spent two years working on the painting Cimabue’s Celebrated Madonna is carried in Procession through the Streets of Florence, which was exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts in 1855 and caused a sensation there. The work would later be purchased by Queen Victoria.

From 1855 to 1859, he lived and worked in Paris, where he met well-known French painters, including Ingres, Eugène Delacroix, Jean-Baptiste Corot and Jean François Millet.

In 1860, Leighton settled in London, where he became an associate member of the Royal Academy in 1864, full member in 1868 and president of the institute in 1878, a position he would hold until 1896. In 1877, he completed the sculpture Athlete Wrestling with a Python, which, according to critics, heralded the renaissance of British sculpture, then referred to as 'New Sculpture'.

In 1864, he bought a plot of land in Holland Park, where he had a large house built, the construction of which took 30 years in several stages. The house now houses the Leighton House Museum, which displays work by the artist and parts of his collections.

Leighton’s studio

Frederic Leighton was knighted in 1878. Eight years later, he received the title of baronet. In 1896, he became the first artist in England to acquire a title of nobility. He was granted the hereditary title of baron. However, he only enjoyed this for a very short time, as he died a day after the award. As Leighton had always remained unmarried and had no offspring, the title expired immediately.