Not currently on display at the V&A

Head of an elderly Arab

Oil Painting
ca. 1868 (painted)
Place of origin

Study of an elderly man wearing a turban.

Object details

Object type
TitleHead of an elderly Arab (generic title)
Materials and techniques
Oil on canvas
Brief description
Oil painting, 'Head of an Elderly Arab', Frederic Leighton, ca. 1868
Physical description
Study of an elderly man wearing a turban.
  • Height: 17.8cm
  • Width: 13.8cm
Measured 29/05/07 by Emma Luker and Rachel Sloan
Credit line
Purchased with the assistance of the National Heritage Memorial Fund, Art Fund, Shell International and the Friends of the V&A
Object history
According to Rodney Searight: - `Bt fr Holder, July 1968, £22:10/- [shillings] '.

Historical significance: Frederic Leighton was born in Scarborough in 1830, but his family travelled extensively in Europe during his childhood. After receiving an all round education, he studied art at Frankfurt under Steinle, and at Brussels, Paris and Rome. In 1852 he began to work independently and spent the next three years in Rome.

Leighton's painting Cimabue's Madonna carried through Florence (1853-55) was his first major work, and an immediate success. When it was shown at the Royal Academy in 1855, it was bought by Queen Victoria.

Leighton settled in London in 1859, though he frequently travelled abroad. His cosmopolitan knowledge of languages, literature and music marked him out as an exceptional figure in Victorian London, and he rose rapidly through the art establishment. He was elected ARA in 1864 and RA in 1868, and attained the Presidency of the Royal Academy in 1878. He was the most influential of the Victorian Classical painters, and an important exponent of the 'subjectless' painting associated with the Aesthetic Movement, in which pictorial narrative is suppressed in favour of beauty and atmosphere. Leighton died on 25 January 1896 and is buried in St. Paul's Cathedral.

Leighton was in the habit of making rapid oil sketches during his travels to record buildings, landscapes and local characters. It is possible that this sketch was made during a trip to Egypt in 1868, when Leighton sailed up the Nile in a steamer lent by the Viceroy, Ismail Pasha, and visited Giza, Asyut, Koorveh, Memnonium and Philae, travelling as far south as Aswan (Christopher Newall, 'Chronology', in Frederic Leighton 1830-1896, London: Royal Academy of Arts, 1996, p. 95). Leighton appears to have used the study as the basis for the head of the elderly man in the background of the painting Hercules Wrestling with Death for the Body of Alcestis (1869-71; Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT, USA; see Frederic Leighton 1830-1896, pp.168-9), although the direction is reversed.
Historical context
See Searight Archive for attribution. See also SD.1298. Leighton visited North Africa and Egypt on several occasions.
Bibliographic reference
Searight, Rodney. The Middle East : watercolours and drawings by British and foreign artists and travellers, 1750-1900, from the collection of Rodney Searight, Esq. London, 1971
Accession number

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Record createdMay 29, 2007
Record URL
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