Born in Dublin in 1881, Leech came from a middle-class family; his father, Henry Brougham Leech, was former Professor of Law at Trinity College. Educated privately and at St. Columba’s College, in 1899 Leech showed his first painting, Lake Brienze before a Storm, at the RHA: this work was most likely painted in Switzerland, where he had received part of his private education. The previous year he had returned to Dublin, to study at the Metropolitan School of Art. However, disappointed with the standard of tuition, he transferred to the RHA schools, where Walter Osborne’s tuition was an important influence. Leech absorbed the lessons of Impressionism but also went on to embrace Post-Impressionism, developing a painterly style that combines the ‘plein air’ tradition with experiments in colour being made by Matisse, Bonnard, and the Fauves.
In 1901 Leech moved to Paris, enrolling at the Academie Julian and becoming friends with the New Zealand artist Sydney Thompson. He remained in France for much of the first decade of the twentieth century, living in Paris or in Concarneau, Brittany, and regularly sending works to RHA exhibitions in Dublin. Often painted in the open air, his sketches and paintings were well-received, winning him the Taylor Prize on no less than four occasions. Even while living in France, Leech continued to exhibit works in Dublin. In 1907 he showed at the Leinster Hall, along with Constance Gore-Booth and Casimir Dunin Markiewicz, two fellow-students from the Academie Julien. Leech exhibited this same venue over the two succeeding years. He was elected a member of the RHA in 1910, the same year he and his parents moved to London. His most famous painting, A Convent Garden, Brittany (1913) is in the National Gallery of Ireland, and depicts his first wife Elizabeth, who he had married the previous year, dressed as a novice. For the rest of his life, Leech lived either in England or on the Continent, but he did not forget his native country. While exhibiting at the Royal Academy, Whitechapel, and NEAC, he continued to show regularly at the RHA, missing only ten exhibitions over a period of sixty-eight years.
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