Saturday, November 20, 2010

Saturday Salon: A Favorite Painting

Lord Frederic Leighton - 1830-1896 (Actually, he wasn't a 'lord' for very long, just a couple of days at the end of his life and the title died with him.) is one of those painters whose work most people are vaguely if not intimately familiar with. His work is of the 19th century Pre-Raphaelite school, a group of artists whose paintings are reproduced and printed all over the place, probably because of their general stylized romanticism, beauty and grace. Read more about the Pre-Raphaelites here.

Leighton's The Painter's Honeymoon, the painting shown above is one of my very favorites - a copy in poster form, hangs on my living room wall, so I live with it everyday. The very first time I saw this image, I was, as Dickens might say: struck all of a heap. It's not only the subject matter -an artist sketching while his adoring young wife looks on - it's the technique and composition, the richness of it all that drew me in then and now. The young woman's gown is an orgy of satin, the darkish, yellowish green dazzles in its heavy intensity. (I wonder if there's any artist alive today who could paint fabric in this sort of tactile way.) But note the other factors: her piquant and very sharp chin, the oval of her face, the gentle brilliance of her red hair, the couple's entwined hands as the artist patiently goes about his task. Is he drawing her do you think or drawing for her? They are still on their honeymoon, after all.

He is a kind of a blah figure to my mind, dark and almost hidden except for his hands and the concentration on his face. The artist can't be Leighton because he never married. But who knows, maybe he imagined himself in the scene.

The couple is probably sitting in an orangerie, maybe in Italy someplace? I've imagined so. I've imagined lots of things about this painting.

I've included a photo of the artist Frederic Leighton in today's post merely because when I ran across it in my online ramblings, my immediate reaction was: What a hunk! Yes, I am smitten by his manly, brooding, sharply chiseled face - sigh. I admit it: I am a Leighton groupie. Someday, perhaps in another lifetime, I hope to visit the Leighton House Museum in England.


  1. Even before I read your post I was struck by how the artist uses the light from what I asume is a window or door way and the way it lights up the wife. Her gown is gorgeous and I agree that it looks so touchable, that you can almost hear it rustling as she leans over the sketchpad.

    The other thing I really enjoyed about this one was the quiteness of the intamacy between them. There is nothing forced or posed about it, is seems so natural.

    I must say I think you converted me with this one.

  2. My copy (on a poster for the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston) is not as bright, so we have to take into account reproduction values on the brightness factor. But yes, the light on the young woman is fascinating. The funny thing is, Ryan, I think the orig. painting is quite small.
    I was surprised by that. It seems to work so well large. I'm always fascinated by how artists were able to work so small. And yet it IS a very intimate scene. As for the gown, yes, isn't it rich? I don't even think they teach the painting of fabric anymore in art school.
    Not to this kind of degree. Gorgeous work. Glad I converted you to Leighton, Ryan. :)

  3. I love the PRB paintings - they have such a wealth of detail!

  4. And they're SO romantic. Probably why a lot of people turn up their noses at them. Ha! But I love 'em.


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