Frederic Leighton – British Artist and his Travels in 19th Century


Who was Frederic Leighton?

Frederic Leighton (1830-1896), was one of the most famous British artists of the nineteenth century. The recipient of many national and international awards and honours, he was well acquainted with members of the royal family and with most of the great artists, writers and politicians of the late Victorian era.

He was born in Scarborough, Yorkshire to a medical family. His father was a doctor, and his grandfather had been the primary physician to the Russian royal family in St. Petersburg, where he amassed a large fortune. Leighton’s career was always cushioned by this family wealth, his father paying him an allowance throughout his life. Leighton’s parents were worried about his choice of career as he wrote in a letter of 1879, “My parents surrounded me with every facility to learn drawing, but, strongly discountenanced the idea of my being an artist unless I could be eminent in art”.

Leighton did succeed in becoming ‘eminent in art’ with Queen Victoria buying his first painting in 1855 and in 1878 he reached the pinnacle of his profession, becoming the President of the Royal Academy of Arts. He never married and just before his death from heart failure in 1896, he was ennobled, becoming Frederic, Lord Leighton, Baron of Stretton. He is the only British artist to have been awarded this honour and is buried in St Paul’s Cathedral.

Leighton the traveller

From an early age, travelling was part of Leighton’s life. His mother, not liking the climate and ‘polluted’ environment of Britain, insisted the Leighton family spend prolonged periods of time in Europe. Leighton therefore travelled widely around Europe and could speak French, German, Italian and Spanish. In 1857 at the age of 27 he made his first trip to Africa, visiting Algeria. This was the beginning of a lifetime’s involvement with North Africa and the Middle East. It would ultimately lead in the construction of his Arab Hall in 1877 which was inspired by a twelfth century Arab-Norman palace called La Zisa in Palermo, Sicily.


Where did Leighton travel to? What was travelling like in the 19th century? Who else was travelling between East and West and why? For further reading please visit the original website

Frederic Leighton – British Artist and his Travels in 19th Century