The Story Behind the Painting: The Shadow by Edmund Blair Leighton

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The Shadow original on easel 

The Shadow

Illusions Gallery The Shadow original 

 The Story Behind the Print:
"The Shadow" by Edmund Blair Leighton

The Shadow is based upon the Greek myth of Debutades, a Corinthian girl who drew the portrait of her beloved on the wall of her bed-chamber by tracing the outline of his shadowcast by the lamp-light on the night before he departed for war. Leighton changed the setting for the drama to the battlements of a medieval castle, below which the young crusader's ships are waiting. We are pleased to present, through an unprecedented collaboration with Berman Museum of World History in Anniston, Alabama, the previously unpublished Edmund Blair Leighton work entitled "The Shadow." This single most significant acquisition in lllusions Gallery's collection of fine art images is a milestone in two ways: it marks the first time this image has ever been available to the public in any print form anywhere in the world, and it marks the first time an Old Master reproduction has been created by Illusions Gallery utilizing the original work of art and the source material (in this case, the state-of-the-art scanning of the painting) simultaneously, so that the first proofs of the prints could be compared directly to the original. In a whirlwind trip that took place in April of this year the painting was carefully packed in a special crate, heavily insured, and transported to be scanned, proofed, and returned to the museum the same day. All involved were excited, elated, and exhausted. The Berman Museum of World History was created via bequeathal of the private art and artifacts collection of Farley and Germaine Berman to their chosen hometown of Anniston; for complete (and fascinating) information about the Bermans, their collection, and their legacy, please go to: Berman Museum of World History Edmund Blair Leighton (1853-1922) Edmund Blair Leighton, ROI (Royal Institute of Oil Painters) was one of the more prominent members of the group of painters known as the Pre-Raphaelites active in Britain in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Leighton displayed a promising talent at a young age and, despite the protests and concerns of his family, was certain he wished to live life as an artist - as had his famous father, the painter Charles Blair Leighton, who died when Edmund was only two. He was apprenticed to be a tea merchant at fifteen but continued his drawing and painting lessons in the evenings; he then applied and was accepted to the prestigious Royal Academy Schools, (London) and after attending only eighteen months he submitted his first work to the Royal Academy Exhibition. His early successes and an encouraging, if unexpected, first sale affirmed his choice of profession, and he devoted several months of each year to paintings for the R.A. Exhibitions throughout his career. Leighton emphasized absolute attention to smallest detail, for the correctness of each detail was of vital importance to the overall realism and feeling of the whole painting. Importantly, his paintings are evocative of emotion and of a story in the mind of the viewer, while at the same time they stand on their own merits as works of art, beauty and technique. He was rarely ever satisfied that a work was finished - a common trait he shared with his peers - and was known to scrape down and rework portions of canvases moments before they were to be delivered to an Exhibition or to a client. Leighton was - and is - known for his romantic, noble subject matter in period pieces that often display couples in a significant moment in their lives: the knighting ceremony of "The Accolade," the well-wishes and hopes for safe return in "Godspeed," the wedding ceremony in "Signing the Register," and the capture of remembrance in "The Shadow." Though his works were popular in his lifetime and several of his paintings are among the most recognizable in the world today, very little written material can be found concerning E. Blair Leighton himself. One excellent and insightful article, with interviews, by his contemporary Rudolph de Cordova appeared in a British magazine in 1904-1905. "The Shadow" (Circa 1909) The poignancy of the moment captured in EB Leighton's painting, "The Shadow" is immediately apparent: a knight, in full chain mail, stands in profile before a castle wall, absolutely still and unhurried, while his beloved traces the shadow he casts with a piece of charcoal vine. The presence of a ship in the harbor, though distant, creates the sense of his impending departure - likely to battle - and gives significance to her drawing as possibly the only remembrance she may have of him for some time to come. It was not uncommon for prolific painters such as Leighton to create two or more versions of the same painting or scene; often they would experiment with different lighting or perspective, or perhaps a client would see a work and commission a similar one. Because of this practice, two known original versions of "The Shadow" exist, with slight differences in the details: one hangs in the grand City Hall in Cardiff, Wales, UK, and the other in the Berman Museum in Anniston, Alabama, donated from the private art and artifacts collection of Farley and Germaine Berman. The Sotheby's London auction catalogue, viewable here, documents the purchase of the painting in 1972 for the Berman's collection. It is this version that we are pleased to present to you now.

article by Kathleen McGloin, Illusions Gallery, copyright 2008