The painter Frederic Leighton, 1st Baron Leighton, was born in Scarborough on 3 December 1830. His father, Frederic Septimus Leighton (d. 1892) was a physician, and together with his wife Augusta Susan (d. 1865) and young children moved to London in about 1832. Leighton’s attendance at University College School was patchy, as his mother’s ill health meant that the family had a nomadic lifestyle, frequently travelling around Europe, but he nevertheless matriculated when he was about eight-years-old. Tutored in drawing in Rome and Florence, he was a skilled linguist able to converse in Italian, French and German.
During the family’s stay in Frankfurt from 1846, Leighton was enrolled at the Städelsches Kunstinstitut. His studies there were interrupted by periods spent in Brussels and Paris owing to the political climate in Germany, but resumed in 1850 when he studied under Edward von Steinle.
Leighton’s first major work was Cimabue’s Celebrated Madonna, painted while he was in Rome. He sent it for exhibition at the Royal Academy in London during 1855, where it was almost universally admired. Contemporaries including John Ruskin and Dante Gabriel Rossetti expressed reservations, but Queen Victoria immediately purchased it. Leighton continued to send paintings to London for exhibition in the following years, but never replicated his initial triumph.
Leighton moved to London in 1859 where, despite his earlier success, he initially encountered suspicion and resentment, possibly because of his foreign training and overseas connections. His first attempt to become a Royal Academy associate in 1861 was rejected, although by 1878 he had been elected president, a position he held for eighteen years. Leighton received a knighthood in 1878 followed by a peerage in 1896. He died a bachelor at his home on 25 January 1896 with the actress Dorothy DeneEnglish stage actor and a protégé of Frederic Leighton, for whom she modelled for several of his paintings. , who had modelled for many of his paintings, at his bedside.