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Statuette - Athlete struggling with a Python
  • Athlete struggling with a Python
    Leighton, Frederic Lord, born 1830 - died 1896
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Athlete struggling with a Python

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    England (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1874 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Leighton, Frederic Lord, born 1830 - died 1896 (sculptor)

  • Materials and Techniques:


  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Sculpture, Room 21, The Dorothy and Michael Hintze Galleries, case 1

This is the reduced preliminary cast for Leighton's full-size bronze called Athlete Struggling with a Python in Tate Britain, London. The original clay model from which this plaster was cast was handed by Leighton to another leading painter and sculptor, G. F. Watts, who arranged for it to be cast. The model has since disappeared. The full-size bronze, signed and dated 1877, was exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts in London in that year. A replica of it was carved in marble in 1890 by F. W. Pomeroy for the Glyptothek museum in Copenhagen, Denmark. The Royal Academy has the original plaster model for the full-size bronze at Leighton House, London, given by Leighton in 1886. Three further versions in bronze and one in waxed plaster are also in the Royal Academy collection. A plaster sketch given by Alphonse Legros in 1897 is in Tate Britain. A further version in bronze is in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

Frederic Leighton (1830-96) was born in Scarborough in 1830, the son of a physician. 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; 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.

Physical description

A naked athlete, crowned with a wreath, struggles with a python. Standing with legs planted wide apart he holds the python at arm's length with his right hand. With his left, which reaches out behind him, he grasps the python's body.

Place of Origin

England (made)


ca. 1874 (made)


Leighton, Frederic Lord, born 1830 - died 1896 (sculptor)

Materials and Techniques



Height: 25 cm, Weight: 0.76 kg

Object history note

Given by the sculptor to G.F. Watts. Purchased by H.D. Molesworth, on behalf of Dr. W.L. Hildburgh F.S.A. from Cavendish Hood and Company Ltd. for £1, 2, Baker Street, W1. Given by Dr. W. L. Hildburgh, F. S. A. in 1954.

Historical significance: Another cast is in Leighton House, the gift of G. F. Watts.

Descriptive line

Statuette, plaster, Athlete Struggling with a Python, by Frederic Lord Leighton, England, ca. 1874

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Bilbey, Diane with Trusted, Marjorie, British Sculpture 1470 to 2000. A Concise Catalogue of the Collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2002, pp. 321, 322, cat. no. 488
Penny, Nicholas. Catalogue of European Sculpture in the Ashmolean Museum, Vol III, Oxford, 1992, p. 113
Leighton and his Sculptural Legacy, exhib. Catalogue, Joanne Bames Fine Arts at the Matthiesen Gallery, Feb. 1996, p. 47, no. 17

Labels and date

This small plaster model was taken from the original clay model Leighton made for the life-size bronze (displayed nearby). Its energetic composition was seen as the starting point for the so-called New Sculpture in Britain. Compared with much contemporary sculpture, it showed 'something far more vital and nervous … a series of surfaces, varied and appropriate, all closely studied from nature.' [March 2007]



Subjects depicted

Athlete; Python


Sculpture; Myths & Legends


Sculpture Collection

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