An Old Southern Port, 1901

by Benjamin Williams Leader

P.O.A.

MEDIUM: Oil on canvas
DIMENSIONS: (unframed) 44 x 72 inches (111.8 x 182.9 cm)
SIGNATURE: Signed and dated (lower left); inscribed (verso)

‘An Old Southern Port’ depicts Littlehampton harbour, populated with vessels from small rowboats to full-rigged sailing ships which float along the River Arun.

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    ‘An Old Southern Port’ depicts Littlehampton harbour, populated with vessels from small rowboats to full-rigged sailing ships which float along the River Arun.

    This is an excellent example of the atmospheric scenes that Benjamin Williams Leader painted with increasing popularity from around the late 1880s. After 1889, he and his family moved from his native Worcestershire to Surrey and the West Sussex resort town of Littlehampton became a favourite summer destination. Leader paid great attention to detail in his work, and had an incredible ability to portray light against water.

    Private collection, United Kingdom

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    Born as Benjamin Williams, he added the surname Leader, his father’s middle name, to distinguish himself from the Williams family. Upon abandoning a profession in engineering for art, he became a pupil at the Royal Academy in 1853. The following year he showed his first picture there, and continued to exhibit prolifically up until his death in 1923. His paintings were bought by King George V and William Gladstone amongst others and he became one of the most popular and expensive artists of his day.

     

    Leader was extremely popular in Victorian times and his work sold for high prices. Today he is recognized as one of the most accomplished Victorian landscape artists of his day. He usually chose scenes from the Midlands and the Thames valley, although he was also partial to Welsh landscapes, especially around Bettws-y-Coed.

     

     

    His earlier work reflects his admiration of the Pre-Raphaelites, however, he later developed a broader, more naturalistic style. A realistic feeling of space and a lightness of atmosphere are characteristic of his work. James Dafforne, the contemporary art critic of the Art Journal, praised his work in glowing terms in 1871: ‘his style is a happy medium between excess of detail and over elaboration on the one hand, and a dash of execution on the other…we regard Mr. Leader as one of our best landscape painters.’

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