Frederic Leighton

Flaming, 1895, Oil on Canvas, 47.48 x 47.48” (120.6 x 120.6cm), Museo de Ponce, Pnce, Puerto Rico

Summer’s back is broken at last here in North Texas, and I can breathe deeply once again. We will see a return to hot days this month, but not the oppressive, killer temperatures we’ve suffered so long. But our drought continues to squeeze us and an area about the size of Connecticut is currently on fire here. Some 1000 homes have been destroyed so far. Resources and volunteers from all over the country are here to help us cope. This is good because our governor who wants to be your president recently cut the budget for firefighting in Texas by seventy-five percent. So every little bit helps, and we thank you all.

But it is not burning where I am and for that I am also thankful. I have been so depressed and angered by the temperature and the world of late that I am taking a deliberate turn at the world of beauty. Fire summons more than one image, and Leighton’s picture above is one of the most beautiful images ever committed to canvas. I forget sometimes that it isn’t necessary to have something important to say in art. Sometimes it is enough to simply create beauty.

Winding the Skein, 1878, Oil on Canvas 39.49 x 63.5” (100.3 x 161.3cm), Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia

There is a better than even chance you never heard of this artist unless you took an art history course somewhere along your path. He is remembered for being the first and last Baron Leighton, having the good taste to die the day after he was named a peer before he had the chance to get uppity. As he was unmarried, his Barony ended with his death. He was well liked, well traveled and well trained. He knew many more important artists, but I think he was very happy with the direction of his own work. While he certainly created historical art, more of it was a kind of genre/historical cross which is pleasing for the modern viewer to contemplate. He was as famous in his own time for his sculpture as for his paintings. Robert Browning asked him to design the tomb for his wife Elizabeth Barrett Browning, which gave him at least a glancing role in one of the great love affairs of literary history.

I have never studied this artist’s biography and there is much about him I simply do not know. But I know these pictures are exquisite, and he has so many others equally as delightful I highly recommend you seek him out.

For the beauty.

The Fisherman and the Siren, Oil on Canvas, 26 x 19.7” (66.3 x 48.7cm) Private Collection

Though Keats was from an earlier generation, Leighton would certainly have been familiar with the poet. Keats caught the stars very young, and he lived for far too short a time. But he told us one of those few, eternal things that ring so rightly in the ear that many modern folk think it comes from the Bible. He said, to paraphrase, that truth is beauty and beauty is truth and that is all we will ever know or need to know of heaven.

It is certainly enough for me today.

Solitude, 1890, Oil on Canvas, 72 x 36” (182.88 x 91.44cm) Maryhill Museum of Art, Washington State, USA


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5 Responses to Frederic Leighton

  1. Pat Snyder says:

    Thanks for posting these. They are exquisite. I have never seen nor heard of Leighton, but I am delighted to make his acquaintance.
    We once had a discussion on poetry and you quite convinced me that it should speak of life, not just pretty words. As you know, I’ve long been a fan of pretty words, both for their sound and images. So I am smiling to hear you say “It isn’t necessary to have something important to say in art”.

    • foxpudding says:

      I think it makes art “better” when there is an intellectual point beneath it, much more so with the written word than in the visual arts. But beauty can certainly be enough. And even in the written word, something like Southey’s “The Cataract of Lodore” can be great fun without anything more important on its mind than describing water flow. Glad you like Mr. Leighton.

  2. Jenifer says:

    Wow! I’m glad to be introduced to him and will most certainly take the opportunity to learn more. Thank you. As a redhead, I find Flaming entrancing, it’s electric!

  3. Pingback: John William Godward | The Automat

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