Friday, November 4, 2016

Edmund Blair Leighton, Victorian Artist Extraordinaire (1852-1922)

Since this month begins a new “best list” of Victorian romances, it seemed only fitting that I should tell you more about Edmund Blair Leighton, a gifted Victorian artist who gave us beautiful renderings of romantic love.

To this day, very little has been published about Blair Leighton. There are no modern monographs dedicated to his work, and he is seldom mentioned in books, which discuss Victorian art, and yet his paintings are among the most recognizable of Victorian art and have garnered large prices at auction.

Leighton was born in London, on September 1, 1853 and began exhibiting his work while still a young man in 1874. You could say Leighton inherited his gift from his father, Charles Blair Leighton, who was a very talented artist, and exhibited several works during his short career (he died when he was only thirty-two years of age.)

Though Leighton was forced by his family into a mercantile career, the artistic in him refused to be denied. He spent all of his spare time in drawing, and made such progress that when he was seventeen he decided to devote his evenings after business hours to the study of art. When he turned twenty-one, he announced to his family that, cost what it might, he would be a painter. To that end he had been saving all he could out of his salary, and managed to put by enough to provide a good year’s start. He resolved first to get into the Royal Academy Schools. So, he went to the British Museum, did the necessary drawings as examples of his skill, and was soon admitted as a student.

His signature
To meet his expenses, he began to sell his illustrations, which drew comparatively high prices. The reason for his rapid success was perhaps to be found in the fact that he treated each drawing as if it were a picture, not only paying models to sit for him, but even going to the expense of hiring the right costumes. About eighteen months after he had entered the Royal Academy Schools, he sent his first picture to the Royal Academy Exhibition.

One of his early works was Till Death Do Us Part, 1877.

Till Death Do Us Part
 In another Victorian image, he gave life to the flowers in Lady in the Garden.

Lady in a Garden
By 1882, he was doing medieval painting, recreating scenes from that era such as that of Abelard and his Pupil Heloise.
Abelard and his Pupil Heloise

His works of Godspeed (1900) and The Accolade (1901) are perhaps his most famous and can be seen in almost every poster shop around the world. They are the epitome of medieval iconography. The Accolade derived its inspiration from a French work on chivalry, which mentioned that even ladies occasionally conferred the order of knighthood on worthy men. Very few paintings so well capture the essence of medieval romance.


With Godspeed being in 1900, The Accolade, 1901, The End of the Song, 1902, Alian Chartier, 1903, and Vox Populi, 1904, his career hit its peak. 

He continued to paint other great masterpieces for many years, with less and less large-scale works as he neared the end of his life. 
Many of his images were from the Regency period. He celebrated the end of the war with Napoleon with In 1816.

In 1816
Courtship by the piano

Leighton helped the public to appreciate the romance attaching to antiquity and for that, we romance lovers can forever be grateful.


He died on September 1, 1922. Today we still enjoy his beautiful paintings.

The End of Song also titled Tristan and Isolde, 1902

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