Leighton's Athlete Wrestling a Python Towards the end of the nineteenth-century sculptors began to explore a broader range of subject matter with a greater emphasis upon naturalism. This shift from the stylized neoclassical period to what was referred to as New Sculpture, is generally attributed to Frederic Leighton's sculpture Athlete Wrestling with a Python. Leighton's representation of a male nude, treated the human form in a more naturalistic and detailed manner to create a dynamic sculpture. The figure is actively fighting a python, which has begun to wrap itself around the athlete's highly defined muscular body. With one arm outstretched, holding the head of the snake the other fights to loosen the constricting beast from his torso. There is great emphasis upon the body and the detailed rendering of its surface variations. Leighton has effectively placed the python so that the viewer's eyes take notice of the whole composition of the athlete's body, which is entirely engaged from the struggle. Leighton's sculpture presented a new precedent of which many sculptors reacted to and created their own new style. The New Sculpture movement does not represent one singular style, but rather a range of approaches to make sculpture more dynamic and life-like.

One such artist was Ruby Levick (married name Bailey) a student at the Royal College of Art, from about 1893 to 1897. Due to the resurgence in small-scale sculpture and new sculpture techniques such as modeling, Levick was one of the many women who began to infiltrate the once male dominated field of sculpture. Like her classmate, Margaret Giles, Levick achieved notable success at school and went on to have a professional career.

Like many artists of the time, Levick worked in multiple mediums and is known to have produced and had a notable reputation for her small scale sculpture, relief work and stained-glass windows. Though, she is most remembered for sculptural works such as Wrestlers (1897), Fisherman Hauling in a Net (1900), and Rugby Football (1901). Her first work, Wrestlers, bares noticeable resemblance to Leighton's influential Athlete Wrestling with a Python, not only in title but also in the pure physicality of the work. Levick's work depicts two nude male figures engaged in a powerful struggle. Because few images are available of this work, and there is very little scholarly information to be found, all observations are taken from images. This makes it difficult to fully understand the object in its three dimensional state. It appears both faces are obscured, by their opponents' arms, and the two bodies are entangled, and like Athlete Wrestling with a Python the viewer's eyes move freely around the work. Like Leighton, Levick chose to represent athletic idealized bodies. Both sculptures depict in great detail the musculature beneath the skin, but Levick's wrestlers are not as finished and polished as Leighton's figure. This could be due to the fact that this sculpture was never fully realized in bronze, remaining as a plaster model. Even in their rough state, the wrestlers have a certain sense of vitality, which was somewhat absent in Leighton's work. By concealing certain parts of the figures anatomies, the main emphasis is placed upon the bodies and the struggle in which they are engaged. Whereas, the struggle in Leighton's sculpture is inferred by the presence of a snake and the engaged muscles, Levick's representation of the wrestlers is physical almost violent and animalistic. Leighton's Athlete Wrestling with a Python has not completely severed its ties from its predecessors. Like Leighton, Levick too draws inspiration from her predecessors, though she develops techniques of working with mediums thus creating a style all her own in the New Sculpture movement.

Discussion Questions

1. What are some other noticeable similarities and differences of the sculptures? (i.e. stylization, age, body type)

2. Do you believe the difference in the representations of the male nudes reflect on the gender's of the respective artists?

3. What is the main emphasis in each sculpture? Which do you feel is more dynamic/active/lifelike? What do you attribute your choice?


Victorian Web Homepage Visual Arts sculpture

Last modified 5 March 2007