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The Male Form / Frederic, Lord Leighton, PRA (1830-1896) Dancing athlete with an olive branch

Lot 45
Frederic, Lord Leighton, PRA
Dancing athlete with an olive branch
7 June 2022, 10:00 EDT
New York

Sold for US$252,375 inc. premium

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Frederic, Lord Leighton, PRA (1830-1896)

Dancing athlete with an olive branch
oil on canvas
87 x 50 4/5 in. (221 x 129 cm.)


Honorable Percy Wyndham, commissioned from the artist.
Honorable Lady Lowther, Lowther Castle, Cumbria.
J.B. Godfrey.
Anon. sale, Sotheby's, London, July 9, 1974, lot 47A, sold by the above (as Male Dancer)
Wengraff, acquired at the above sale.
Anon. sale, Christie's, London, June 7, 1996, lot 571 (alongside two other works from the same series).
John Schaeffer collection, Sydney, Australia, acquired at the above sale.
Martin Cook Antiques, Sydney, Australia, acquired from the above, 2004.
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2004.

Moncure Daniel Conway, Travels in South Kensington: With Notes On Decorative Art and Architecture in England, New York, 1882, p. 164.
Leonée and Richard Ormond, Lord Leighton, London, 1975, p. 174, no. 421.
Charlotte Gere, 19th Century Decoration, London, 1989, pp. 18, 23, pl. 18, illustrated.
Richard Ormond, 'Leighton & Mural Painting', Apollo, London, February 1996, p. 55.

Originally conceived as one of a set of five full length classical figures, the present lot is a stunning example of Leighton's skill as a mural painter. Once owned by the great Victorian art collector and philanthropist John Schaeffer (1941-2020), the work is presented to auction for the first time in 25 years.

Having worked on a number of mural compositions for public buildings in the 1860s, Frederic Leighton undertook a series of private commissions, the earliest of which was to provide decorations for 44 Belgrave Square in London, home of Percy and Madeline Wyndham. Overseen by the architect George Aitchinson - who had designed Leighton's own Holland Park residence - the scheme also incorporated work by Val Princep, and Madeline Wyndham herself. The Wyndhams were great patrons of the arts, friends to Burne-Jones and Watts, among others.

The positioning of the murals within the house is known through an 1869 illustration by Aitchinson which shows the present lot, alongside two other full-size oils, adorning the grand staircase in Belgrave Square; reference is also made to the scheme in Moncure Conway's 1882 Travels in South Kensington, who notes that 'in the house of the Hon. Percy Wyndham, Belgrave Square, there is a grand staircase, which has on the wall...five life-size classical figures, by Sir Frederic Leighton'. Leighton worked with Aitchinson on a number of further projects, including providing decorations for Stewart Hodgson in South Audley Street (now hanging in Leighton House) and a ceiling design for the music room of Henry Marquand's New York apartments (one section of this scheme, Erato was recently sold at auction, see Sotheby's, New York, January 28, 2021, lot 4).

The three known works from the Belgrave Square scheme (all sold at Christie's, London, June 7, 1966, lots 569-571) depict full length figures, painted against striking gold backgrounds. Two show dancing female figures, each holding cymbals, while in the present lot, the nude male holds aloft an olive branch. The male figure, while stylised, is reminiscent of Leighton's depiction of Icarus in another work of the late 1860s, Daedalus and Icarus. Like many artists of his generation, for Leighton, Greek art represented the pinnacle of artistic achievement, and many of his paintings draw inspiration from the wealth of sculpture that the artist would have been exposed to during his travels in Europe. However, while many of his British contemporaries would have predominantly worked 'from the antique' Leighton's European training also incorporated drawing from life, and he would make numerous figure studies, often of nude forms, before deciding on his final composition (see Marden Fitzpatrick Nichols, 'Leighton's Drawings and the Classical World', Lord Leighton drawings online archive).

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