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Oil painting - Leopard and bird
  • Leopard and bird
    Swan, John Macallan, born 1847 - died 1910
  • Enlarge image

Leopard and bird

  • Object:

    Oil painting

  • Place of origin:

    Great Britain (painted)

  • Date:

    late 19th century (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Swan, John Macallan, born 1847 - died 1910 (painter (artist))

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Oil on panel

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by Henry Louis Florence

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Physical description

An oil painting of a leopard lying at rest, watching a bird flying overhead.

Place of Origin

Great Britain (painted)


late 19th century (painted)


Swan, John Macallan, born 1847 - died 1910 (painter (artist))

Materials and Techniques

Oil on panel

Marks and inscriptions

'J M Swan'
Signed by the artist


Height: 9.625 in estimate, Width: 12.9 in estimate, :

Object history note

Bequeathed by Henry L. Florence, 1916

John Macallan Swan was a painter and sculptor. Swan was born in Brentford, Middlesex on 9 December 1847 to Scottish parents and grew up in Worcester. He received his art training first in England at the Worcester and Lambeth schools of art and the Royal Academy schools. In 1874 he left England for Paris where he studied at the École des Beaux-Arts under Jean-Léon Gérôme. It was during this time that Swan became interested in sculpture. Gérôme introduced Swan to Emmanuel Frémiet, a sculptor who specialised in animal subjects. The pair studied together in the Jardin des Plantes. Swan remained in Paris for five years, after which he returned to England where he lived, first, in Surrey and then in London. He frequented the zoo in Regent’s park where he would observe and sketch the captive animals, paying particular attention to the wild cats. Swan is perhaps best known for his paintings and sculptures of animals but he also painted and sculpted human subjects, particularly favouring depictions of the nude form. Following Frémiet’s instruction Swan had studied under anatomists in Paris and he continued to study at St Thomas's and St Bartholomew's hospitals in London. Swan first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1878 and exhibited both paintings and sculptures there numerous times thereafter. He also exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery. He was made a member of the Royal Watercolour Society in London in 1889, was elected an associate of the Royal Academy in 1894 and was made a full member of that institution in 1905. His reputation and achievements were not solely recognised in England; Swan achieved widespread recognition, becoming well known on the continent and in America. In Paris Swan was awarded a silver medal in 1889 and three gold medals in 1900 (at the Universal Exhibition). At Munich he received a gold medal in 1893 and later the grand medal in 1897. He also won two gold medals at the Chicago World Fair in 1893. Swan married Mary Anne Rankin in Cork in 1884. She was also an artist and specialised in portraits and depictions of children. Together, they had two children, John Barye Rankin and Mary Alice, the latter of which also became an artist. Swan’s most prestigious commission came towards the end of his life, when in 1907 he was asked to execute a lion (to be reproduced eight times) for the memorial to Cecil Rhodes in Cape Town. He was additionally asked to model a bust of Rhodes for the same memorial. It was whilst carrying out this latter charge that Swan died, on 14th February 1910. Examples of Swan’s work are held in a number of institutions including the Manchester City Galleries, Bradford Museums and Galleries, Aberdeen Art Gallery and the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

In Leopard and Bird Swan depicts one of his most revisited themes; the felidae. He depicts a leopard in a natural setting and adds an element of the primal by incorporating a dead bird, the trophy of a successful hunt. Swan’s loose handling of paint further adds an element of wildness to the scene as, where a highly polished finish would have been suggestive of an enclosure at a zoo, the more sketchy rendering lends the spontaneity and dynamism of the wild. Contemporary writers have commented on Swan’s skill in capturing both the underlying physical structure and the more intangible nature of his subject. Cosmo Monkhouse, in his preface to Catalogue of a collection of studies and drawings of wild beasts by John M. Swan (March 1897 Fine Art Society), wrote that Swan displayed a ‘grasp of the complex structure, … insight into the character, and… sympathy with the nature of the creature.’1

On the back of this work there is an oil study of a recumbent lion.

Cosmo Monkhouse, Preface to Catalogue of a collection of studies and drawings of wild beasts by John M. Swan, (London: Fine Art Society, 1897), p.9

Descriptive line

Oil painting entitled 'Leopard and Bird' by John Macallan Swan R.A. Great Britain, ca. late 19th century.


Oil paint; Panel


Oil painting

Subjects depicted

Birds; Leopards


Paintings; Animals and Wildlife


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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