On his travels throughout the Mediterranean, in addition to painting landscape sketches, Leighton also painted several small portraits. Some of these were subsequently used as a basis for figures in larger compositions. Richard Ormond has suggested that the present study may have been taken during one of the artist's visits to Capri. It bears close similarity to the second male figure from the left in Captive Andromache, the artist's last great processional composition, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1888, no. 227, and subsequently sold to Manchester City Art Galleries in 1889 for £4,000.
During the 1880s Leighton was criticised for coming to rely on too anodyne a type of subject, aimed to please a plutocratic clientele. He reacted by taking his inspiration for Captive Andromache from the Illiad in which Hector, the Trojan leader, imagines the fate of his wife if he were to be killed in battle 'carrying water from an alien well'. On a huge canvas he choreographed numerous figures around Andromache. Dressed in mourning and isolated against a dramatic cloudscape, she acts as a central equipoise to the entire composition. The figure for which the present lot is the study stands lower left, anchoring the composition with his red hat, and providing a strong upward diagonal. The picture can be seen as the culmination of Leighton's long study of Poussin and Raphael's The School of Athens.
We are grateful to Richard Ormond for his help in preparing this catalogue entry.