Winding the skein

Winding the skein. Frederic Lord Leighton, P. R. A. (1830-1896). 1878. Oil on canvas, 100.3 x 161.3 cm. Not signed. Not dated. The Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney; Purchased 1974 (1027). The painting appears here courtesy of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, which retains copyright; it may not be reproduced without the museum's permission.

Commentary by Angus Trumble

In 1867 Leighton visited Lindos on the Greek island of Rhodes, and sketched local models on the roof terrace of a whitwashed house, as well as recording views of the wide bay and the hills beyond the town. He returned to these sources in about 1877 after travelling to Spain in search of a beautiful October sky to accompany this two-figure composition of girls winding a skein of worsted. The weather on that trip was disappointing — he artist noted that he had a right to expect "the clear, keen autumn weather, after the air has been well swept and purged by the equinoctial broom and pail" — so the more distant recollection of golden sunlight over the Bay of Lindos was presumably closer to what Leighton had in mind for this painting. The location is clearly identifiable by the so-called Tomb of Cleobolos which may be seen at the end of the promontory that juts out to the far right.

In 1895 Ernest Rhys remarked that subjects of this kind, the "idealization of a familiar occupation so that it is lifted out of a local or casual sphere, into the permanent sphere of classic art, is characteristic of the whole of Leighton's work." Yet it also had the distinct classical association with the Fates (Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos — who drew, measured and cut their thread). One of Leighton's regular models, a girl called Connie Gilchrist, posed for the figure of the child. She appears in two famous paintings of the previous year, Music lesson (London, Guildhall Art Gallery) and Study: At a reading desk (Liverpool, Sudley House). . . . The picture was engraved, and went to the Royal Academy in 1878. [196]


Trumble, Angus. Love and Death: Art in the Age of Queen Victoria. Exhibition catalogue. Adelaide: Art Gallery of South Australia, n.d.

Created 4 December 2005

Last modified 5 November 2021