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Frederic, Lord Leighton, P.R.A., R.W.S. (1830-1896)
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Frederic, Lord Leighton, P.R.A., R.W.S. (1830-1896)

An Athlete wrestling with a Python

Frederic, Lord Leighton, P.R.A., R.W.S. (1830-1896)
An Athlete wrestling with a Python
signed and dated 'F.LEIGHTON.1877' and numbered 'XX', with foundry inscription 'PUBD BY ERNEST BROWN & PHILLIPS / AT THE LEICESTER GALLERIES. LEICESTER SQUARE, LONDON.', on a stepped grey marble plinth
bronze, dark brown patina
20 in. (51 cm.) high, the bronze; 21 ½ in. (55 cm.) high; 13 ¼ in. (33.5 cm.) wide; 9 ¾ in. (25 cm.) deep, overall
with Gawain McKinley, London, 1972.
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Lot Essay

From its first appearance at the Royal Academy in 1877 The Athlete has been recognised as a major work of British sculpture. Leighton’s figure is at once imbued with the spirit of the Antique (the Laocoön is the obvious source) and strikingly modern. It heralded the beginning of the New Sculpture movement and was considered one of the finest examples of British sculpture through the 20th Century.

The statue represents a youth of superb physique locked in a life and death struggle with a snake. The model is thought to be Angelo Colarossi, a leading figure in the Italian colony of professional male models. The male nude in action was a theme Leighton explored in his paintings of the early 1870s, such as Daedalus and Icarus and Hercules wrestling with death. Leighton had little experience with sculpture and the execution of such a powerful and dynamic design was undertaken in the studio of his protégé, Thomas Brock, who provided significant technical expertise. That it was the first of only three sculptures that Leighton fully completed makes it all the more impressive.

The original life-size bronze version is now in Tate Britain, on loan to the Victoria & Albert Museum. In 1887 Carl Jacobsen, owner of the famous Carlsberg brewery in Copenhagen commissioned a marble version (deaccessioned in 1974 and sold from the Forbes Collection in these Rooms on 19 February 2003 as lot 28). Bronze reductions such as the present lot were published in two sizes by the Leicester Galleries, though rarely appear on the market. Another cast of this size was given to Princess Mary by the members of the Royal Academy of Arts in February 1922, the month of her marriage to Henry Lascelles, 6th Earl of Harewood (1882-1947), and sold from Harewood House in these Rooms on 5 December 2012 (lot 519, £91,250). A further edition in this size sold in these Rooms on 16 June 2015 (lot 43, £104,500). A larger cast measuring 38 ½ in. (98 cm.) sold in these Rooms on 11 July 2013 (lot 8, £493,875).

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