Greek classics and Leighton’s brush with fame

The painting Ariandne Abandoned by Theseus. Photo: By Arrangement   | Photo Credit: By Arrangement


Artist Frederick Leighton's ideal of beauty was Greek and his figures are remarkable for their stately appearance, chiselled features - the qualities we associate with Greek subjects.

Frederick Leighton was a king of the English classical painters of 19th century. Both in the high qualities of painting and personality, he stood head and shoulders above the rest all others. As an artist he was hard to rival for exquisite use of line, rendering of transparent tissue and skilful composition

Frederick Leighton had great influence on English classical painters like G.F. Watts, Herbert Schmalz and Alma Tadema. As the president of Royal Academy of Arts, he was amazingly popular. A colourful personality, he combined in himself wonderful business ability, tact and shrewdness

Frederick Leighton took his subjects from Greek classics and painted them in a grand manner. His ideal of beauty was Greek and his figures are remarkable for their stately appearance, chiselled features — the qualities we associate with Greek subjects.

Frederick Leighton He was not bound by any traditions and customs. He had not copied in a servile manner and did not copy from Greek models. He wanted to be modern.

In their actions and attitudes, dispositions and dresses, the figures betray portray Leighton’s feeling for contemporary life. Whatever contemporary life he painted, he tried to lift it to a higher level. Thus, his pictures happily combine classical elegance and reality of contemporary life, raised to a high artistic level.

Leighton was born in 1838 in a rich English family. Florence, Frankfort, Paris and Rome — each played an important role in his art education. At Florence, he joined the Academy of Fine Arts whose directors were Bezzouli and Servline.

At Frankfort, he did his studentship under John Edward Steinle, a man of deep religious learning. At Rome, he worked hard and acquired all the great qualities that characterise his art – simplicity, harmony, soft and smooth colours, graceful lines.

Coleridge, whom he met at Rome, prophesied predicted a bright future for him. At Paris, he made fruitful acquaintance with Bouguereau and Gerome, two famous Paris painters.


He settled in London and the productions that followed established his fame as a painter of extraordinary ability. Honours followed in quick succession: in 1868 he was made Royal Academician; in 1878, came presidentship of Royal Academy came; in 1896 he was created Baron Leighton of Stretton. The same year he died.

‘Ariandne Abandoned by Theseus’, the Salar Jung Museum’s picture of Leighton, is one of the five pictures he contributed to Royal Academy in 1868. Framed In a classical frame and painted on a huge canvas, this work of Leighton shows Ariadne abandoned by her lover, Theseus. Ariadne, falling in love with Theseus, helps him in killing Minotaur and accompanies him across the seas to his home. Though accounts differ as to the manner of desertion, Theseus leaves her on the isle of Naxos. Ariadne pines for his return. Artemis, goddess for feminine beauty of youth, who is reputed to cause painless death, releases Ariadne by death.

In the picture, Ariadne is seen lying lifeless on a rock promontory. The gloomy sea water, the unfilled in skyline, sparsely added details serve to emphasise the death that has overtaken Ariadne. But death does not wane the elegance and beauty of the mythical lady. Particularly impressive is the treatment of transparent drapery and the ivory-hued body.

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Printable version | Dec 4, 2016 8:31:53 PM | http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Hyderabad/greek-classics-and-leightons-brush-with-fame/article4533099.ece