Little Fatima

FREDERIC LORD LEIGHTON PRA RWS HRCA HRSW (1830-1896) Biography

Little Fatima (England, c.1875)

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Oil on paper laid on canvas

Dimensions

39.50cm high
24.00cm wide
(15.55 inches high)
(9.45 inches wide)
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Provenance

R. Kirkman Hodgeson, his sale, Christie's, 21 November, 1924 (lot l8, bought by Sampson)
Private collection, Yorkshire, England

Condition

London, Royal Academy of Arts, 1897, (Winter Exhibition) Exhibition of Works by the Late Lord Leighton of Stretton number 147 (The inclusion of this work in Leighton's memorial exhibition, lent by R Kirkman Hodgeson, is recorded on an old label on the reverse.)

Literature

Times, (1st May 1875), page 12
Art Journal, (1875), page 219; 'F. LEIGHTON, R.A. whose interest in the progress of the Academy students is so active and so earnest, contributes five pictures of varying merit, but all refined and harmonious in colour and classic in beauty. ...The three-quarter face of a 'Venetian Girl' (354), in a green dress, gives Mr. Leighton an opportunity of showing how subtle is his sense of colour; and the same Venetian feeling comes out even more strongly in the purple cloak in which 'Little Fatima' (345) is draped Fatima herself is simply a little oriental fairy of the most witching grace.'
John Ruskin, Notes on some of the Principal Pictures exhibited in the Rooms of the Royal Academy (1875) page 36; 'English maids, I repeat, by an English painter: - that is all that an English Academy can produce of the loveliest. There's another beautiful little one by Mr. Leighton, with a purple drapery thrown over her, that she may be called Fatima (215, and 345), who would have been quite infinitely daintier in a pink frock, and called Patty.'
Ernest Rhys, Frederic Lord Leighton, (George Bell and sons, London 1898), pages 23 and 26
Mrs Russell Barrington, The Life, Letters and Work of Frederic Leighton' (George Allen, London 1906), Volume 2, page 386
Leonee and Richard Ormond, Lord Leighton (Yale University Press, New Haven and London 1975), page 163, catalogue of works number 233 (as untraced).

Exhibition History

London, Royal Academy of Arts, 1875, Summer Exhibition, number 345

Description / Expertise

Like many Victorian public men, Leighton was constrained by the formality of his society. His public image was necessarily polished and dignified and his friends noted the tensions this created within him. Only in the company of small children, for whom he felt a deep affection, could he relax. There are many charming accounts of Leighton's rapport with children and Burne-Jones even suggested that Leighton should illustrate Stevenson's Child's Garden of Verses because `he draws babies with real rapture'.(1) This rapport often surfaces in the small paintings of children, which Leighton exhibited at the Royal Academy alongside larger and more portentous works. It is in such small paintings, in which the artist was relaxed, that his delicacy of colour and handling could appear to best advantage. The critics' appreciation of these qualities in `Little Fatima' can be seen in the extracts above.

`Little Fatima' has an added interest because of its Orientalism. Leighton first showed an Oriental subject, a `Reminiscence of Algiers' at the Society of British Artists in 1858. Ten years later, in 1868, he made a journey to Egypt and in the autumn of 1873 he worked in Damascus where he made many studies and where he probably gained the inspiration for the present work. As the citations above imply, the child model featured twice in Leighton's Royal Academy exhibits of 1875.

She also stands in the foreground of the `Portion of the Grand Mosque of Damascus' (Ormond number 216, plate 138) now in the Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston. However, as Ruskin implies, Leighton's image of Fatima is meant to be decorative and attractive rather than a serious record of the Middle East, for the girl is quite clearly European.

The first owner of the work was probably a relative of Stewart Hodgeson, Leighton's greatest patron, and commissioner of such major works as the `Daphnephoria' (see this catalogue number 103) and the Music and Dance friezes (see this catalogue numbers 105-108)


1. 1885, letter quoted in S. Colvin, Memories and Notes, (E. Arnold, London 1921), page 57