Frederic, Lord Leighton, P.R.A.
- Frederic, Lord Leighton, P.R.A.
- Venus and Cupid
- oil on canvas
Private Collection (and sold, Christie's, London, June 11, 1993, lot 126, illustrated)
Private Collection, New York (acquired at the above sale)
Thence by descent
New York, Philadelphia, London, Exhibition of British Art, 1857-8 (selected but not exhibited)
Possibly, London, Society of British Artists, 1858
London, Royal Academy of Art, Frederic Leighton 1830-1896, February 15 - April 21, 1996, no. 11
Mrs. Russell Barrington, The Life, Letters and Work of Frederic Leighton, London, 1906, vol. I, p. 248-9; vol. II, pp. 45-6, 382
Edgcumbe Staley, Lord Leighton of Stretton, PRA, London, 1906, pp. 54-5, 232
Leonée and Richard Ormond, Lord Leighton, New Haven, Connecticut, 1975, pp. 35, 38, 151, no. 31 (as untraced)
Linda S. Ferber and William H. Gerdts, The New Path, Ruskin and the American Pre-Raphaelites, exh. cat., New York, 1985, pp. 119 and 132, no. 61
Susan P. Casteras, English Pre-Raphaelitism and its Reception in America in the Nineteenth Century, Madison, New Jersey, 1990, pp. 54, 195, no. 59
Elise Lawton Smith, Evelyn Pickering De Morgan and the Allegorical Body, London, 2001, p. 72, illustrated p. 74
Keren Rosa Hammerschlag, Frederic Leighton: Death, Mortality, Resurrection, New York, 2015, pp. 115-116, 118, illustrated p. 114
Born in Scarborough, Leighton was educated at University College School, London, before training on the European continent, first from Nazarene artist Eduard von Steinle in Frankfurt and later at the Accademia di Belle Arti, in Florence. It was here that he painted Cimabue's Celebrated Madonna is carried in Procession through the Streets of Florence, (1853-4, Royal Collection, England, on loan to the National Gallery), Leighton’s debut submission to the Royal Academy in 1855, which was exhibited to near universal acclaim. Upon seeing the painting, Queen Victoria wrote in her diary on May 3, 1855, that "There was a very big picture by a man called Leighton. It is a beautiful painting, quite reminding one of a Paul Veronese, so bright and full of light. Albert was enchanted with it—so much so that he made me buy it“ (as quoted in Johnathan Marsden, Victoria & Albert, Art & Love, London, 2010, p. 127). Leighton stayed in London through the summer of 1855, being introduced to society and meeting members of the artistic community, including John Ruskin, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and George Frederick Watts. In the autumn of 1855 he moved to Paris, where he met Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Eugène Delacroix, and William Bouguereau, and completed his long continental artistic tutelage, remaining there for the next four years until he finally settled in London in 1859.
In Leighton’s time, students at English art schools were typically studying the body through works from antiquity, while in the French ateliers, students observed from live models. Perhaps not surprisingly, the subjects who graced the walls of the Royal Academy were relatively clothed when compared to their counterparts at the Paris Salon, which had maintained a strong tradition of exhibiting the nude. The present work was painted while Leighton was studying at an atelier on the Rue Richer, Paris, in 1856, where he was exposed to many accomplished French Academic artists whose impact on Venus and Cupid, and other of the artist’s works, would be evident. Leighton wrote to his sister: “I have further made the acquaintance of Ingres, who, though sometimes bearish beyond measure, was by a piece of luck exceedingly courteous the day I was presented to him. He had just finished a beautiful figure of Nymph, which I was able to admire loudly and sincerely” (as quoted in Hammerschlag, p. 116). Judging by the similarity of the arabesques produced in the models’ twisted contrapposto, the model’s raised arm, and water or drapery streaming down the sides of the body, it is likely that the painting Leighton admired was Ingres’ The Source (1856, Musée d’Orsay, fig. 1) and its influence on the present work, Leighton’s first full length nude, is evident.
Leighton painted Venus and Cupid together with another full-length figure painting, Pan (1856, Private Collection, fig. 2). Upon seeing the two works at Leighton’s studio (as well as the artist’s Royal Academy submission of 1856, The Triumph of Music), his friend Robert Browning, whom he had met in Rome, described them in a letter to the American sculptress Harriet Hosmer dated January 8, 1856: “Leighton is a better fellow than ever, very lovable, really. He’s painting a very fine and original picture, life-size, of Orpheus playing Eurydice out of hell, full of power and expression. He has a capital Pan enjoying himself in a dell, from a superb Italian model here, (the perfection of a man,) and a Venus, very clever too; and designs for perhaps a dozen delicious pagan figures; a sudden taste that has possessed him" (Harriet Goodhue Hosmer, Letters and Memories, New York, 1912, p. 64). Once completed and in advance of his trip to Italy, Leighton sent the pictures to Watts’ studio at Little Holland House in London, where they were exhibited. Watts wrote that they made his own work look “flat and dim. There are some wonderful things in them evincing a wonderful perception of natural effects, and power of carrying them away in the memory and embodying them upon canvas” (as quoted in Jones, et al., p. 109). Watts took the initiative to send both paintings to the Manchester Industrial exhibition, where the critical response to their nudity was tepid, and hedged by prudery. In 1857 Leighton allowed them to be included in the exhibition of modern British art, organized by William Michael Rossetti, scheduled to tour the west coast of America. This exhibition did not go as planned for Leighton. As reported by the American actress Fanny Kemble (Leighton’s dear friend Adelaide Sartoris’ sister), Leighton responded, writing that “Pan and Venus are not being exhibited at all on account of their nudity, and stowed away in a cupboard… this is a great nuisance. I have sent for them back at once” (Barrington, vol. II, p. 45). They were returned in time for Leighton to exhibit the Venus, now retitled Nymph and Cupid, at the Society of British Artists in 1858.
Venus and Cupid represents Leighton’s first foray in painting the nude. Works such as Venus Disrobing for a Bath (1867, Private Collection) and The Bath of Psyche (1890, Tate Britain, London) demonstrate Leighton’s continued exploration of the subject, and his influence on its a resurgence in British art is seen in the work of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (see lot 13), John William Godward (see lots 15 and 17) and Solomon J. Solomon (see lot 14) each found inspiration in his works and teachings. Far removed from the dramas of mythological scenes as well as the costume dramas or genre scenes so prevalent in nineteenth century painting, Leighton described his art process of the 1860s and 1870s as his "growth from multiplicity to simplicity," using classical traditions to experiment with "modern" thoughts and feelings (as quoted in Ormond, Lord Leighton, p. 85).