Cervara, near Rome indistinctly inscribed on remnants of an old exhibition label attached to the reverse oil on canvas 27 x 32cm (10 1/2 x 12 1/2in).
Provenance: Val Prinsep, RA; Anthony Prinsep, by descent; private collection, UK.
Exhibited: Royal Academy Winter Exhibition, 1897, No. 127.
Literature: Leonée and Richard Ormond, Lord Leighton , (Yale 1975), no. 506, p. 177 (as untraced).
From the summer of 1852 to the winter of 1855, Leighton lived and worked in Rome. During this time he found great comfort in the small but close group of friends he made and also developed an unbounded confidence and vitality which would become a fundamental element of his artistic success later in life. As one friend observed all that confidence in himself which in his younger days gave the casual observer the impression of conceit was founded upon a just confidence in his own powers. 1Italy was a country very close to the Leightons heart and the Campagna served as a great source of inspiration for him, as he commented in 1852: Italy rises before my mind. Sunny Italy!...I am about again to tread the soil of that beloved country, the day-dream of long years is to become a reality. I am enraptured!2
Among the friends Leighton made during his time in Rome was the former opera singer Adelaide Sartoris. Although there was no known romantic connection between the two, there existed a great warmth and sympathy between them that Leighton would draw on throughout his stay in Rome. During the early Spring and Summer months of 1854 Leighton and the Sartoriss, along with other artists such as Robert Browning, made a series of expeditions into the Campagna to take our luncheon in the midst of all that was lovely in nature and picturesque in the ruined remains of power and the immortal memories of Roman Story.3 It was during one such visit that Leighton met the acquaintance of another close friend Giovanni Costa, as the artist recalled in his journal:
'In the month of May the usual artists' picnic took place at Cervara, a farm in the Roman Campagna. There used to be donkey races, and the winner of these was always the hero of the day. We had halted at Tor de' Schiavi, three miles out of Rome and half the distance to Cervara, for breakfast. Everyone had dismounted and tied his beast to a paling, and all were eating merrily. Suddenly one of the donkeys kicked over a beehive, and out flew the bees to revenge themselves on the donkeys. There were about a hundred of the poor beasts, but they all unloosed themselves and took to flight, kicking up their heels in the air - all but one little donkey who was unable to free himself, and so the whole swarm fell upon him. The picnic party also broke up and fled, with the exception of one man with fair, curly hair, dressed in velvet, who, slipping on gloves and tying a handkerchief over his face, ran to liberate the poor little beast. I had started to do the same, but less resolutely, having no gloves; so I met him as he came back, and congratulated him, asking him his name. And in this way I first made the acquaintance of Frederic Leighton.'4
The present lot is likely to have been completed during one such visit and later given to Leightons neighbour and close friend Valentine Princep after returning to Holland Park after 1854. It would then have been sent to the Royal Academy possibly to be part of a retrospective exhibition after Leightons death in 1896.
1. Mrs Russell Barrington, Life and Letters & Work of Frederic Leighton, 2 vols., 1906, in Lord Leighton by Leonée and Richard Ormond, Yale, 1975, p.25. 2.The Times (28 Jan. 1896), p. 7, ibid, p.15. 3. F. Kemble, Further Records, I, p.262, ibid. p.23. 4. G.Costa, 'Notes on Lord Leighton', Cornhill, LXXV (March 1897), p. 374, ibid, p.18.