Frederic, Lord Leighton, P.R.A., R.W.S
- oil on canvas, in original frame
- 53 by 41cm., 21 by 16in.
Thomas Agnews & Son, London;
William Sampson of The British Galleries, London, where bought by a private collector and thence by descent
Illustrated London News, 3 May 1879, p.414;
Art Journal, 1879, p.127;
Ernest Rhys, Sir Frederic Leighton Bart., P.R.A. - An Illustrated Chronicle, 1895, p.25;
Ernest Rhys, Frederic Lord Leighton - Late President of the Royal Academy of Arts - An Illustrated Record of his Life and Work, 1900, p.39;
Alice Corkran, Frederic Leighton, 1904, pp.104, 203;
Mrs Russell Barrington, The Life, Letters and Work of Frederic Leighton, 1906, vol.II, p.387;
Edgcumbe Stanley, Lord Leighton of Stretton, 1906;
Leonee and Richard Ormond, Lord Leighton, 1975, pp. 128, 164 cat.no.259
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.
NOTWITHSTANDING THIS REPORT OR ANY DISCUSSIONS CONCERNING A LOT, ALL LOTS ARE OFFERED AND SOLD AS IS" IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE CONDITIONS OF BUSINESS PRINTED IN THE SALE CATALOGUE."
Alice Corkran, 1904, p.104
Catarina depicts an olive-skinned Italian model dressed in a traditional Campagna smock-shirt, with amber beads at her throat and jasmine flowers in her hair. The composition is beautifully simple, being free of all incidental detail or anecdotal association, nor is any information given about the identity or personality of the sitter. As Alice Corkran stated in 1904; 'They are all unreal and visionary, these pale women of graceful and sweet charm... They are parted from the sisters of strenuous workaday life by a mist of dreams.' (ibid Corkran, p.104) Thus Catarina lends itself to a purely aesthetic response, allowing the spectator to take delight in the softly-lit physiognomy, the colour of her blushed skin and pink lips reciprocated by the rich colouring and sfumato of her hair and the background. The same costume and background was used for Biondina (Kunsthalle, Hamburg, a study of a blonde model of a similar age). Catarina is one of at least three bust-length portraits of the same model painted by Leighton c.1878, the other two being a profile entitled Neruccia (whereabouts unknown) and Nicandra (private collection). All these pictures were probably painted during Leighton's visit to Italy in the autumn of 1878 when he visited his friend the artist Giovanni Costa at Lerici. It was during this trip that Leighton painted a powerful portrait of Costa (Leighton House Museum) and several heads of local girls. Whilst in Italy Leighton learnt of the death of Sir Francis Grant, the President of the Royal Academy and soon after his return to London in October he was elected as Grant's replacement and elevated to the most prominent position in the British art world.
In his first Royal Academy Summer Exhibition as President, Leighton took full advantage of his position and submitted the maximum number of exhibits, eight; which demonstrate almost the full spectrum of his talents as a painter. Elijah in the Wilderness (Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool) was of a dramatic and noble subject and was very large like the portrait of Countess Brownlow (The Brownlow Collection, Belton House) and Amarilla (Christie’s, 31 May 2012, lot 22). The smaller pictures included the portrait of Costa and the studies of models with exotic titles Biondina, Neruccia and Catarina, which Edgcumbe Stanley described as ‘an epoch in themselves in Leighton’s story of eclectic beauty. Each one is marked by loveliness and distinction, each head is ideal.’ (Edgcumbe Stanley, Lord Leighton of Stretton, 1906) The public and critics reacted with more enthusiasm to these smaller, more direct pictures than the larger and more imposing paintings. The review in the Athenaeum was typical; ‘Catarina is another member of a category of pictures which owe much to the President’s feeling for voluptuous beauty and sense of delicate varieties of character, varieties so subtly differentiated that we cannot attempt to describe them. Catarina is a bust portrait or rather representation, of a damsel, the fellow to Neruccia painted with equal felicity, a face which is Oriental in its type and comprises a high nose, full lips, flat and fine cheeks, large upper eyelids, dark eyes, and black hair; the head is bound by white star-like flowers.’ (Athenaeum, 3 May 1879, p.572)
The costume, hair-style and the model's colouring in Catarina recall Leighton's famous depictions of the handsome Italian Nanna Risi, Pavonia painted in 1859 (one in the Royal Collection, the other in a private collection). Leighton regularly sent paintings of professional models (in this case the title is probably his own invention rather than the girl's real name, and is intended simply to support the peaceful atmosphere of the composition) to exhibitions at the Royal Academy or the Grosvenor Gallery, a venue associated with the progressive Aesthetic Movement, the aim of which was to produce paintings essentially without narrative and concentrating upon colour harmonies.