Left: Bronze statuette with dark brown patination. 20 ¾in (52.5 cm) high, inscribed “The Sluggard” and signed in cast “Fred Leighton.” Private collection. Right; Bronze statue with brown patination, 75 ¼r inches (191.1 cm) high, collection of the Tate Britain. [Click on images to enlarge them.]
his cast was made from a study for one of Leighton’s two full-size sculptures that he executed during his career, the other being Athlete Wrestling with a Python. Both are examples of the so-called "New Sculpture", a term coined by the critic Edmund Gosse in a series of articles in the Art Journal in 1894 (140). Gosse traced the origin of the New Sculpture movement back to 1877 when Frederic Leighton exhibited Athlete Wrestling With a Python at the Royal Academy. Gosse saw "something wholly new, propounded by a painter to the professional sculptors and displaying a juster and livelier sense of what their art should be than they themselves had ever dreamed of." Read has suggested that the subject of The Sluggard can be seen “as a symbol of the art of sculpture, liberated by Leighton, flexing itself for renewed activity after a long time in the shackles of convention”(331).
This sculpture was originally entitled An Athlete Awakening from Sleeping when it was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1886 as the life-size bronze. Leighton later changed its title to The Sluggard, likely because it better emphasized the languid pose of the model. In 1882 Leighton had made a quick clay sketch of a life model after he rose to stretch following a particularly long sitting. Staley has described the moment when Leighton first had the idea for the subject: “Giuseppe Valona, the model, a man of fine proportions, weary one day of posing in the studio, threw himself back, stretched out his arms and gave a great yawn. Leighton saw the whole performance and fixed it roughly in clay straight off” (131). The bronze statuette cast from the clay study shows the model languidly stretching and arching his back in a pose reminiscent of classical Greco-Roman sculpture that celebrated the athletic male nude as the height of artistic perfection. The full-size bronze cast was bought by Henry Tate at Leighton’s studio sale following his death in 1896 and presented to the Tate Gallery. The full-size plaster version is in the collection of the Royal Academy in London. The full-scale model had been started in sculptor Thomas Brock’s studio in 1885 and the bronze version was finished by January 1886. This cast was also exhibited at the 1889 Paris Exposition Universelle where it was awarded a medal of honour.
Bronze statuettes cast from the initial small clay model for The Sluggard were published in large numbers from 1889 onwards, initially by Arthur Leslie Collie and cast by the J. W. Singer & Sons Ltd. Foundry of Frome Somerset. A bronze cast bearing Collie’s name and the founder Singer & Sons was exhibited at the Arts and Crafts exhibition of 1890. In 1888 Singer & Sons had established their foundry capable of casting small bronzes using both the lost wax and sand casting processes. The copyright to produce The Sluggard passed from Collie to J. W. Singer & Sons Ltd sometime in the first decade of the 20th Century. This work still appears in the Singer trade literature from around 1914. There is controversy as to the dates of the casts with no Singer Foundry marks. While it is possible these casts may predate the ones that Collie began producing, most scholars feel these casts were more likely later and were produced in the early 20th century. According to Nicholas Penny casts not inscribed with the founder's name were ostensibly made in the interwar years, c. 1920s to 1930s (no. 533, 114). Casts of this statuette proved immensely popular and versions are held by many private collectors as well as in many museum collections including those of the Leighton House Museum, Tate Britain, Victoria and Albert Museum, Leeds City Art Gallery, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire, the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and the Minneapolis Institute of Fine Arts.
Gosse, Edmund. “The New Sculpture 1879-1894”, Art Journal, Vol. 56, 1894.
Penny, Nicholas. Catalogue of European Sculpture in the Ashmolean Museum: 1540 to the Present Day, Vol. III. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992.
Read, Benedict. Victorian Sculpture. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1982.
Staley, Edgcumbe. Lord Leighton of Stretton, London: Walter Scott Publishing Co., 1906.
Beattie, Susan. The New Sculpture. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983. Pp. 149, 190-91.
Bowman, Robert. Sir Alfred Gilbert and the New Sculpture. London: The Fine Art Society, 2008. Pp. 76-77.
Robert Bowman and the Fine Art Society, London, have most generously given their permission to use information, images, and text from Sir Alfred Gilbert and the New Sculpture in the Victorian Web. Copyright on text and images from their catalogues remains, of course, with them. [GPL]
British Sculpture 1850-1914. A loan exhibition of sculpture and medals sponsored by The Victorian Society. London: Fine Art Society, 1968. no. 101.
Ormond, Léonie and Richard. Lord Leighton. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1975.
Last modified 15 April 2021