Thursday, 26 April 2018

Frederic Lord Leighton-Athlete Wresting A Python-One Of My Favourite Things.

 This has to be one of the finest sculptures of all time.
It is one of my favourites, and I have seen a few.
Only one of his two lifesize sculptures.
I stand there open mouthed every time I see it. I saw a giant casting in The Royal Academy London.
Frederic Lord Leighton, 1st Baron Leighton, (3 December 1830 – 25 January 1896) was a artist of repute. His art was photographic in its realism. Some of his art such as 'Flaming June' painted in 1895 is known all over the world.
He was a very skilled man indeed.
 By that I mean he was a purveyor of truth. 
When he did anything he did it well. 
He was able to bring about a resurgence in the art of sculpture in Britain with this creation by being honest to himself and with his line of thought and his idea of movement. This work of 1877 pioneered the 'New Sculpture' movement in Britain.
It was a  challenge to one of the most famous sculptures of all time 'The Laocoon'.

 He chose that very moment of battle. To test his skill.
At the time, it was also known as 'An Athlete Strangling A Python and 'An Athlete Struggling With A Python'

So he went out of his way to make it difficult for himself by choosing the exact time that a Python is wanting to kill its human prey.....or is it the other way round.
As a constrictor, the Python would have been, in elongated and truncated form pumping its body in the fight that ensued. 
The wrestler in turn tensing his muscles as violently as its foe. 
Keeping the monster at bay pushing it away while it wraps itself wanting to suffocate in a coil of death around him.
Each fighting for its life, wrestling for survival. He does not want to be suffocated and consumed, eaten through that retractable jaw that would dislocate itself to eat something far bigger than itself. Reticulating its prey inside its jaws, this man does not want to be a lump inside a giant pair of shoes, you can feel it.
The strength that would be needed to exact this very split second in time that Lord Leighton has captured was immense.
This is a time when photography was in its infancy, a time when not many people would be able to see, with a naked eye, even if they witnessed the event. It would happen too fast.
We can, today video something and slow it down examining each frame, every second, finding the point that we wanted to capture, and stop it. But not then.
Most people would not have even seen a Python unless they went to a zoo.
Today subliminally we seem to know what everything is, we have discovered everything in passing. Our imagination is used to it. 
We pick things up from TV or images around us.
And if its not and we wish to query anything, we can google it.
But not in the age of discovery, the 19th century, that we see here in this amazing piece of sculpture.
Lord Leighton was able to freeze frame a subject in his mind and then turn it into a study that bears reference to classical poise and then make it beautiful even though it is a violent and scary fight for survival.
This study in bronze was featured in the very first edition of the studio and its influence on British art was huge.
 It is said that this sculpture brought back the art of sculpting in Britain and it was an inspiration to a whole generation.
There is a casting of this amazing bronze in Liverpool's Walker Art Gallery in William Brown Street. 
Its worth a look and if you are ambitious, try and draw a study of it. 
Then, you will see, just how good it is.

Of course everything has a price.
Bonhams recently sold a version Provenance
Hartford Hall, Hartford, Cheshire
Purchased by the vendors family at the contents sale of Hartford Hall, sold by Messrs' C.W. Provis & Son, Auctions & Valuers on behalf of the executors of the late Mrs K. B. Carver, Wednesday 14th February 1934, lot 128.
Thence by family descent.

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