Most likely inspired by his model Angelo Colorossi, seen stretching after a sitting, The Sluggard, or the work's original title An Athlete Awakening from Sleep, was almost certainly conceived as a pendant to An Athlete Wrestling with a Python, 1877. The original full scale work was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1886 and was awarded a medal of honour when it was shown at the Paris Exposition Universelle three years later. Acquired from Leighton's studio sale in 1896 by Henry Tate, the full size bronze is now in the Tate Gallery (inv. N01752) and the original plaster in the Royal Academy of Arts (inv. 03/1765).
The present figure's physicality illustrates the influence of the great sculptors of the Italian Renaissance on the artist, yet Leighton was also able to evoke the spirit of the 'new school' having deftly captured a fleeting moment. Scholar Benedict Read suggests the subject can be seen 'as a symbol of the art of sculpture, liberated by Leighton, flexing itself for renewed activity after a long time in the shackles of convention' (loc. cit, p. 68).