Frederic, 1st Baron Leighton of Stretton, “Solitude”

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Frederic, 1st Baron Leighton of Stretton (British, 1830–1896), Solitude, 1890, oil on canvas, 72″ x 36″. Museum purchase, 1965.02.001. Conservation support provided by The Arthur G. Dunn Guild, Seattle, Washington, 1993–1997.

Frederic Lord Leighton was one of the most famous British artists of the nineteenth century. He was well acquainted with members of Britain’s royal family and most of the important artists, writers and politicians of the late Victorian era.

Frederic Leighton was bearer of the shortest-lived peerage in British history. He was knighted at Windsor in 1878, and was created a Baronet eight years later. He was the first painter to be given a peerage and the patent creating him Baron Leighton of Stretton (in the County of Shropshire) was issued on January 24, 1896. The artist died the following day and because he was unmarried and without children, his Barony was extinguished.

Leighton was born into a wealthy and sophisticated family (his grandfather had been primary physician to the Russian royal family in St. Petersburg). From an early age, he traveled with his family around Europe. There he learned French, German, Italian and Spanish and was exposed to the art and architecture of Europe’s great cities.

While in his early twenties, Leighton studied at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence. He then moved to Paris, where he lived from 1855 to 1859 (although he made his first trip to Africa in 1857). The artist moved to London in 1860 and was there associated with the Pre-Raphaelites. In 1864, he became an associate of the Royal Academy and served as its President from 1878 until his death in 1896.

Leighton’s work generally illustrates biblical, classical and historical subject matter. The visual context for this work was inspired by studies the artist made of the Lynn of Dee near Braemar, Scotland. He described the spot to his sister as a location where “the vehemence of winter has scooped and worn pools so deep that . . . you come at last to absolute dark brown night . . . no sound, no faintest gurgle even reaches your ear; the silent mystery of it all absolutely invades and possesses you; that is what I vainly tried to put into my Solitude.”