This fine composition drawing is for the unfinished painting of about 1869 in the Royal Institution of Cornwall, Truro; see L. and R. Ormond, Lord Leighton, New Haven and London, 1975, p. 160, no. 191, and pl. 109. The Ormonds discuss the picture in the context of Leighton's emergence as one of the leading exponents of English classicism in the late 1860s. They compare it to Daedalus and Icarus (Faringdon Collection, Buscot Park), one of his greatest essays in the genre, which was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1869 and again uses the idealised male nude as a vehicle for classicist values. They further observe that the young man's pose is derived from the famous Hermes of Praxiteles, and that the figure anticipates some of Leighton's later sculptures, notably The Sluggard of 1885. This point was elaborated by Stephen Jones in the catalogue of the Leighton Exhibition mounted by the Royal Academy in 1996 (p. 202, under no. 93).
The narrow upright canvas exhibiting a single standing figure was a favourite compositional formula of the classical revival. Parallels exist in the work of G.F. Watts, Albert Moore, Edward Burne-Jones and others; even D.G. Rossetti's Proserpine (see lot 100), a design evolved in the early 1870s, reflects the phenomenon. Not surprisingly, when the figure was nude it tended to be female rather than male, as in Watts's Thetis (c. 1867-9; Watts Gallery, Compton), E.J. Poynter's Andromeda (1869; private collection), Moore's A Venus (1869; York City Art Gallery), or indeed Leighton's own Venus Disrobing (1866-7; private collection). However, male nudes were not unknown. Burne-Jones's Day of 1870 (Fogg Museum of Art, Harvard University) is an example, and compares closely with the present composition.
There is an oil sketch for the Boy with a Shield at Leighton House (Ormond, no. 192), and further studies are in three of the artist's notebooks belonging to the Royal Academy (nos. XXII, XXIV and XXV). One of these (XXV) also contains studies for Daedalus and Icarus and two other pictures exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1869, St Jerome, his Diploma work, and Helios and Rhodes, which was among the pictures in the Tate Gallery destroyed by a flood in 1928.