Edmund Blair Leighton

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Edmund Blair Leighton

English , Victorian Romanticist painter

Born 9/21/1852 - Died 1922

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  • Biography
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*Kara Ross, ARC Director of Operations, is researching and writing the Catalogue Raisonné on Edmund Blair Leighton.

Contact Kara Ross with enquires regarding the Catalog Raisonné on this artist.

Although his name is not commonly known, Edmund Blair Leighton's most famous works are among the most widely recognized paintings of the period. His works of Godspeed (1900) and the Accolade (1901), can be seen in almost every poster shop around the world and are used as the epitome of medieval iconography. If one looks at the visual elements in Godspeed for example, it becomes evident that very few paintings encapsulate with such a strong a sense, the sensibilities of this genre. The beautiful maiden on the steps of a stone castle, the knight in shining armor, the white steed, and the sense of immediate peril which threatens the subjects contentment almost define our modern day conception of Medieval legend and romantic sentiment.

E Blair Leighton was born September 21st, 1852, not 1853 which has been repeatedly misprinted throughout his life and after. He was the son of a promising young artist, Charles Blair Leighton and the former Caroline Boosey, who came from a long line of music publishers. His father died in 1855 leaving little Edmund age three, his older sister Fanny age 5, and his little sister Nellie still in the womb. His mother moved to Bedford park and opened a school for girls, which was successful enough that she was able to support her family. However, believing it was an unsuitable environment for a growing boy, Edmund was sent off to a boarding school in St. Johns Woods where he reported to be poorly fed and extremely unhappy. At age 12 he attended the career oriented University Collage School where he completed his studies at age 15.

Although EBL enjoyed drawing from a young age, he was not able to pursue it as a career right away. Being an artist only pays well if one becomes well known for it and in life there are no guarantees. After some time working in the Tea Business he was however able to save enough money to pursue his artistic training. He started taking night classes at the South Kensington School of Art, and later, had some instruction at the Heatherley's School of Art before gaining entry to the five year program at the Royal Academy of Art School in 1874. The RA was the premier art institute of the country and students were able to meet and study from the leading academicians of that time. Blair Leighton Exhibited regularly at the RA from 1878 -1920. Early in his carrier to earn some extra money, Leighton made illustrations for the noted publisher Cassell & Co., as well as such magazines as Harper's Bazaar.

In 1878 he became a member of the Langham Sketch Club and was given the honor of serving as its president in 1880. In 1885 he married Katherine Nash, with whom he had two children, Eric James Blair Leighton, who also attended the Royal Academy School of Art, and Sophie Blair Leighton, who married the famous British civil engineer Sir Harold John Boyer Harding. Although Edmund Blair Leighton was elected to the Royal Institute of Oil Painters in 1887, he was never voted in as an associate of the Royal Academy. His career hit its peak in and around 1900 with his most famous works of Godspeed being painted in 1900, The Accolade, 1901, The End of the Song, 1902, Alian Chartier, 1903, and Vox Populi, 1904. 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. He died on September 1st 1922.

-- Kara Ross

*1852 has now been verified by birth certificate as the birthdate for Edmund Blair Leighton. 1853 has been published inaccurately in the obituary below as well as in most other sources.

To read the article, E. Blair Leighton: The Prominent Outsider, please click here.

Obituary - The late Edmund Blair Leighton ROI 1853-1922.
The death of Mr Edward Blair Leighton, on September 1st, removed from our midst a painter who, though he did not attain to the higher flights of art, yet played a distinguished part in aiding the public mind to an appreciation of the romance attaching to antiquity, and to a realisation of the fellowship of mankind throughout the ages.

Mr Blair Leighton was born in London, on September 1st 1853, his father being that Charles Blair Leighton, portrait and subject painter, whose exhibits at the Royal Academy and other London galleries covered the period between 1843 and 1855. The son was educated at University College School, before taking a position in an office in the city, but entered the Royal Academy Schools after a course of evening study at South Kensington and Heatherley’s.

He commenced exhibiting in 1874, and succeeded, four years later, in securing the verdict of the Hanging Committee of the Royal Academy in favour of two works, entitled respectively ‘Witness My Act and Seal,’ and ‘A Flaw in the Title.’ Since then his highly wrought style was regularly represented at Burlington House until two years prior to his decease. Among the better known of his pictures, many of which were published, may be named ‘The Dying Copernicus (1880), To Arms (1888), Lay thy sweet hand in mine and trust in me ( 1891), Lady Godiva (1892), Two Strings (1893), Launched in Life (1894), The Accolade (1901), Tristram and Isolde (1907), The Dedication (1908), The Shadow (1909), ‘To the Unknown Land (1911),’ and ‘The Boyhood of Alfred The Great,’ 1913. For the past dozen years or so, Mr E Blair Leighton had been a member of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters. He had married in 1885, Miss Katherine Nash, by whom he had, with a daughter, one son, Mr E J Blair Leighton, who has also adopted painting as a profession.

Appeal of The Work of Edmund Blair Leighton.

The work of E Blair Leighton seems to hold a special place in many people's hearts. Even when unfamiliar with the artist, people are drawn to his depictions of bygone eras which draw the viewer into another time and place. Though Leighton may be best known for his medieval compositions, he also painted a large number of nineteenth century costume pieces which share similar subject of male female interaction and romantic gesture. When one looks at Leighton's body of work as a whole, it is clear that he captures a certain quality that reaches the core of human emotion. Despite differences in time, the subject of love and romance are the same and universal.

Note From the Author: If you think you own a work by Edmund Blair Leighton, please contact me at Kara.Ross@artrenewal.org. So far I have documented over 320 paintings by the artist, but expect that there are at least another 100 or more out there. I will happily confirm whether or not the work is by E Blair Leighton free of charge, though I would require a good photograph of the work. If it is correct, I will include it in my upcoming Catalogue Raisonné on the artist. Likewise, if you have any information pertaining to any of his paintings, or his life, I would be very appreciative for the assistance.

 

Published on 22 August 2011

Image courtesy of John Lovelady