Study for Lieder ohne Worte

Study for "Lieder ohne Worte"

Frederic, Lord Leighton, PRA RWS 1830-1896


Leighton House, London

"Leighton's art was in a transitional phase during the early 1860s. He was moving, as he himself later put it, from the Gothicism of his early work to the classicism of his maturity (Ormond, pp. 55, 85). As a result, his Romola illustrations have interesting developmental affinities with both earlier and later pictures in the artist's oeuvre. A case in point is "Tessa at Home," the twenty-first of the Romola series. This design represents an important stage in Leighton's handling of the motif of the seated, sleeping female figure. This motif, which may derive from the Demeter-and-Persephone group of the Elgin Marbles, arises in one of the artist's early neo-medieval pictures, Lieder ohne Worte (1860-61), and comes to fruition in several of his later neoclassical paintings: Summer Moon (c. 1872), The Garden of the Hesperides (1891), and Flaming June (c. 1895). The affinities between Lieder ohne Worte, 'Tessa at Home" and Summer Moon are especially strong. The illustration, then, shows Leighton on his way to becoming the great Victorian painter of lassitude, the artist for whom, as Disraeli observed, 'beauty is inseparable from "the sentiment of repose'" (Ormond, p. 66). — Hugh Wittemeyer