Who was Frederic Leighton?

LeightonFrederic Leighton (1830-1896), was one of the most famous British artists of the Victorian age, establishing an international standing and reputation. His dedication to his art and the scope and ambition of his own painting won admiration and respect from his fellow artists. The recipient of many national and international awards and honours, he was well acquainted with members of the Royal Family and with most of the great artists, writers and politicians of the late Victorian era. His charm, handsome appearance, cosmopolitan background and generous nature allowed him to move in the highest social circles and forge friendships across the continent.


Leighton was born in Scarborough, Yorkshire to a medical family. His father was a doctor, and his grandfather had been the primary physician to the Russian royal family in St. Petersburg, where he amassed a fortune. Leighton’s career was always cushioned by this family wealth; his father paying him an allowance throughout his life. Leighton’s parents were uncertain about his choice of career as he wrote in a letter of 1879, ‘My parents surrounded me with every facility to learn drawing, but, strongly discountenanced the idea of my being an artist unless I could be eminent in art’.


Leighton did succeed in becoming ‘eminent in art’ with Queen Victoria buying his first major painting in 1855 and in 1878 he reached the pinnacle of his profession, becoming the President of the Royal Academy of Arts. His abilities as an exceptionally able and dedicated administrator of Academy's affairs were universally well regarded. He was widely consulted on matters relating to the art and the culture of his time and he lobbied hard for causes that he believed would further the nations appreciation and enjoyment of art in all its forms. But Leighton remains an enigmatic figure. His private life was closely guarded. He lived alone and travelled alone; some found it hard to penetrate his polished social manner and wondered if they ever really knew him.


Leighton never married and rumours of him having a child with one of his models, in addition to the supposition that Leighton may have been homosexual, continue to be debated today. Leighton left no diaries and his letters are telling in their lack of 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. Just before his death from heart failure in 1896, he was ennobled, becoming Frederic, Lord Leighton, Baron of Stretton. He is the only British artist to have been awarded this honour and is buried in St Paul’s Cathedral.


Discover more about Leighton's life and career:

LBio3Leighton's Appearance [PDF] (file size 550kb)

Holland Park Circle [PDF] (file size 550kb)

Leighton and Dorothy Dene [PDF] (file size 550kb)

Leighton's Family [PDF] (file size 550kb)

Leighton's Honours [PDF] (file size 550kb)

Leighton & Money [PDF] (file size 550kb)

Leighton the Outsider [PDF] (file size 550kb)

Leighton's Travels [PDF] (file size 550kb)

Leighton's Domestic Staff [PDF] (file size 550kb)

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