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Edmund Blair Leighton

Aug - 23 - 2013
The Accolade

“The Accolade” (1901). Edmund Blair Leighton (1853-1922)

Edmund Blair Leighton (21 September 1852 – 1 September 1922) was an English painter of historical genre scenes, specializing in Regency and medieval subjects.
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 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.
Blair Leighton exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1878-1920. Typical titles: The Dying Copernicus, Un Gage d’Amour, Romola etc. Lady Godiva is in the Leeds Art Gallery. His pictures of elegant ladies in landscapes or interiors have a similar kind of charm to those of Tissot.
He was educated at University College School, before becoming a student at the Royal Academy Schools. He married Katherine Nash in 1885 and they went on to have a son and daughter. He exhibited annually at the Royal Academy from 1878 to 1920.

Tristan and Isolde

Tristan and Isolde (1902)

Leighton was a fastidious craftsman, producing highly-finished, decorative pictures. It would appear that he left no diaries, and though he exhibited at the Royal Academy for over forty years, he was never an Academician or an Associate.
To this day, very little has been published about Blair Leighton: there are no modern monographs dedicated to his work, he is seldom mentioned in books which discuss Victorian art, and yet some of his paintings (e.g. The Accolade, God Speed) number amongst the most recognizable of Victorian art to many people and have fetched large prices at auction in recent years.
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.


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