An image of Cymon and Iphigenia

Lord Frederic Leighton

(England 03 Dec 1830 – 25 Jan 1896)

Cymon and Iphigenia

19th c European art
Further information

Not only president of the Royal Academy but a Peer of the Realm, Frederick Leighton occupied a uniquely privileged place in the artistic and social establishment of Victorian England. The first of many major paintings he exhibited at the Academy was purchased by Queen Victoria herself - an unbeatable beginning to a lifetime of official reward and international recognition. Leighton's taste, like that of his audience, was for ceremonial arrangements of beautifully draped figures in classical surroundings. The contemporary realities of industrial England made no appearance in his work, which is unashamedly nostalgic and idealising.The languorous splendour of 'Cymon and Iphigenia' - the tale of a raw youth brought to moral excellence by the revelation of feminine beauty - perfectly expresses the technical finesse and intense eroticism of Leighton's style. Iphigenia's extraordinary undulations betray a sensuous sensibility quite as much as the artist's obligatory scrutiny of classical statuary. The direct source of the narrative is Boccaccio's 'Decameron', in which the well-born and handsome young Galesus was renamed Cymon - meaning beast - on account of his brutishness. On a mild afternoon in May, Cymon chanced upon the sleeping Iphigenia, sensing at once that she was 'the loveliest object that any mortal being had ever seen'. Falling instantly in love, he became a lifelong devotee of beauty and philosophy.

AGNSW Handbook, 1999.

oil on canvas
163.0 x 328.0 cm sight; 218.4 x 390.0 x 15.5 cm frame
Signature & date

Not signed. Not dated.

Purchased 1976
Accession number
Fine Art Society PLC, 1884, London/England
Sir W.E. Cuthbert Quilter, pre 09 Jul 1909, Sussex/England, his sale Christie's London, 9 July 1909, 'The collection of Pictures & Drawings of Sir W. Cuthbert Quilter, Bart' lot no. 65
H Smith, post 09 Jul 1909, Purchased from Quilter sale, Christie's London, 9 July 1909, lot 65
Leopold Albu, pre 15 Jul 1938, London/England, sold after his death, Christie's London 15 July 1938, lot 42
Mitchell, post 15 Jul 1938, Purchased from Albu sale, Christie's London, 15 July 1938, lot 42
John Avery, pre 13 Mar 1969, dates unknown
The Maas Gallery, London, post 13 Mar 1969, England, Purchased from Knight, Frank & Rutley, 13 March 1969, lot 225
Pamela Cavendish, pre 13 Feb 1976, sold Christie's London, 13 February 1976, lot 45
Christie's London, 13 Feb 1976, London/England, Purchased by the AGNSW from Christie's London, 13 February 1976, lot 45