English Victorian painter Edmund Blair-Leighton was famous for his historical genre paintings in the age of chivalry. Known as a second generation Pre-Raphaelite, he and several other artists rebelled against 19th century landscapes and still lifes. His paintings embodied the spirit of romantic love and courtship associated with medieval times. ‘The Accolade’, one of his most famous works, created the foundation for some of the most fantastic literature in existence.
Edmund Blair-Leighton was born September 21, 1853, son of portrait painter Charles Blair Leighton, who died when Edmund was only two years old. He trained as a merchant at the age of fifteen, and worked for a brief time in the office of a firm of tea merchants. His family did not encourage his desire to study art so he bided his time, knowing he could pursue his dreams once he came of age. During that time, he studied in the evenings at South Kensington and then later at Heatherley’s school.
At the age of twenty-one, the artist used money he had saved from his job to fund his studies at the Royal Academy. Before long, those funds had dwindled away, and he looked for a way to continue his studies. Leighton decided to create black and white illustrations for magazines and other publications as a means to survive hard times. In 1877, one of his works, ‘A Flaw in the Title’ was displayed at an exhibition held by the Royal Academy. It received considerable admiration and great reviews from art critics.
Edmund Blair-Leighton married Katherine Nash in 1885, and later had a son and daughter. He exhibited annually at the Royal Academy from 1878 to 1920, displaying such works as ‘An Inspiration’, ‘A Literary Lover’, and ‘The End of the Song’.
Legends in literature depicted by Edmund Blair-Leighton include the representation of King Cophetua who fell in love with a beggar woman, as portrayed in ‘The King and the Beggar Maid’. The painting displays the King on both knees, presenting the crown to a woman in an offer of marriage.
Edmund Blair-Leighton died on the first day of September 1922. He will always be remembered for his portrayal of ladies with long tresses and flowing gowns and knights in shining armor who come to their rescue. His works of art are what legends are made of; they embody the powerful spirit of romanticism associated with medieval times.