Fredrick Lord Leighton (1896 -1830)

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Fredrick Lord Leighton (1896 -1830)

'Athlete Wrestling with a Python'

England, Conceived 1877, this cast circa 1910.

REF No. B76370

'F. Leighton 1877' incised on base numbered XIV.


Height :52 cm | 20¹/₂ in
Width :21 cm | 8¹/₄ in
Depth :30 cm | 11³/₄ in


Frederic, Lord Leighton, P.R.A., R.W.S. (1830-1896)
Athlete Wrestling with a Python

The nude male athlete modelled contrapposto with his weight resting on his right leg and the serpent coiled around his left leg. His right arm outstretched with hand throttling the hissing serpent. Finely cast, detailed and retaining its original dark brown patina of good lustre. 

bronze with dark brown patina

signed and dated 'F. Leighton 1877',  numbered 'XIV' (fourteen) and with foundry inscription  'Pubd by Ernest Brown & Phillips / at the Leicester Galleries, Leicester Square London'.

Conceived 1877, this cast circa 1910.

Height :51.5 cm | 20 1/2 in


The Collection of Seymour Stein, New York.

A seminal work in the history of art and arguably the most influential piece of British sculpture of the 19th Century, Leighton’s Athlete Wrestling with a Python inspired a whole generation of sculptors as the definitive work of the ‘New Sculpture’ movement. Its timeless appeal lies as much in the depiction of virile naturalism as the dichotomy of good and evil.  

The Victorian audience speculated whether man or serpent would win this life and death struggle. The Times newspaper supposed the athlete's left arm to be ineffective: 'The Struggle will soon be over and then heaven help the man!'.

Leighton's paintings far outnumber his sculpture but the critic A.L Baldry said Leighton was 'by instinct and habit of mind, more a sculptor than a painter', that he 'looked at nature with a sculptor's eye', with a 'technical process [...] closely akin to modelling' (A.L. Baldry, Leighton, London, 1908, pp. 75-76.).

Leighton conceived his Athlete Wrestling with a Python when modelling three-dimensional sketches to realise figures for his major painting The Daphnephoria (1876; Lady Lever Art Gallery, Liverpool). It is representative of his interest in classical mythology as best evidenced by his painting Hercules Wrestling with Death for the body of Alcestis (1869 -1871; Wadsworth Atheneum, Connecticut) and Hellenic art, most obviously the writhing masculinity of the ancient Greek statue The Laocoön.

'When I was at work upon the Daphnephoria it occurred to me to model some of the figures [...]. It was at this time that the idea of my Athlete Struggling with a Python came into my mind.' ('Artist as Craftsmen, no. I: Sir Frederic Leighton, Bart., P.R.A., as a Modeller in Clay', The Studio, no. 1 (1893) p. 6).

Leighton was persuaded by his friend the French sculptor Jules Dalou to work up the initial small model into a life-size sculpture and the monumental bronze was cast with considerable technical expertise from his protégé, the sculptor Thomas Brock, and shown to much acclaim at the Royal Academy in 1877. Purchased by the Chantrey Bequest the life-size bronze remains at the Tate Gallery, London, its importance cemented by it being awarded a gold medal at the Paris Exhibition the following year. The original plaster cast was given to the Royal Academy by the artist in 1886, and in 1891 a marble version was commissioned by Carl Jacobsen, the son of the founder of the Carlsberg Breweries, and is today preserved at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney.

In 1902, the brothers Cecil and Wilfred Phillips opened The Leicester Galleries in London’s Leicester Square. They were joined a year later by Ernest Brown. The Leicester Galleries was a leading venue for the presentation and sale of modern art in the early twentieth century. Athlete Wrestling with a Python was published by the Leicester Galleries in two sizes, 38½ inches and 20 ½ inches high. A period advertisement specifies that the larger of the two sizes were limited to an edition of ten, however, only three such examples are known: one at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool (purchased from the Leicester Galleries, 1910), one at the Union Club, Sydney and one sold Christie’s, London, 11 July 2013, lot 8. The smaller of the two sizes was cast in an edition of no more than thirty, of which the present bronze is one such example and is numbered XIV (fourteen). Other examples in museum collections include cast number IV (four) at Anglesey Abbey (NT 515041) and number XIX (nineteen) at the Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery (1973P42).

Frederic Lord Leighton

'Athlete Wrestling with a Python'

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