Leighton made few sculptures, and The Sluggard was conceived as a pendant to his An Athlete Struggling with a Python. Like An Athlete, The Sluggard was drawn from the Italian model Giuseppe Valona. Edgcumbe Staley described the moment when Leighton had the idea for the subject:
‘Giuseppe Valona, the model, a man of fine proportions, weary one day of posing in the studio, threw himself back, stretched out his arms and gave a great yawn. Leighton saw the whole performance and fixed it roughly in clay straight off.’ (E. Staley, Lord Leighton of Stretton, London, 1906, p. 131).
The first study for The Sluggard was modelled in 1882 but Leighton continued to work on the subject for several years before exhibiting a life-size bronze version at the Royal Academy in 1886; for which he was also awarded a medal of honour when it was shown at the 1889 Paris Exposition Universelle. Acquired from Leighton's studio sale in 1896 by Henry Tate, the full size bronze is now in the Tate Gallery. 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’ (B. Read, Victorian Sculpture, New Haven and London, 1982, p. 331).
This bronze statuette of The Sluggard was produced circa 1890-1900 by Arthur Leslie Collie from the clay sketch-model by Leighton, which he executed for the life-size bronze shown at the Royal Academy in 1886. As was the custom, the popularity of The Sluggard, made it viable for a foundry to acquire the rights to produce the model under licence. The Sluggard was produced in an edition, originally published by Arthur L. Collie in 1890, cast in the Singer Foundry in Frome, Somerset. The present bronze is from the earliest edition. The copyright passed from Collie to J.W. Singer & Sons Ltd sometime in the early decades of the 20th Century; it appears in the Singer trade literature around 1914.
The Royal Academy has a bronze statuette cast from a plaster version given by the sculptor's sisters Mrs Orr and Mrs Matthews in 1896. A version dated 1885 is in the Tate Gallery. Published versions held in museum collections include those in the Leeds City Art Gallery and in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.