Leader, Benjamin Williams
Benjamin Williams Leader RA (12 March 1831 – 22 March 1923) was an English landscape painter.
The inspiration for his early works was the countryside around Worcester, "the cottages, farmhouses, lanes, hedgerows and churches, so exceedingly picturesque and beautiful". However, Leader, who had enrolled at the Royal Academy, did not finish his course of studies, nor did he need to – his paintings proved to be in great demand by wealthy buyers and he achieved an enviable degree of commercial success within only a few years of his first sale.
In 1857 he changed his name to Benjamin Williams Leader to distinguish himself from the many other painters with the surname Williams. In autumn of that year he travelled to Scotland, and painted A Quiet pool in Glen Falloch – exhibited at the R. A. in 1859. That year was his most successful yet with four paintings hung at the Academy and all sold, one of the buyers being the art dealer Agnew's who bought much of his work during his lifetime. Such was the demand that much of his best work now went to private galleries and was never publicly exhibited.
Leader's early works bore the influence of the Pre-Raphaelites with their attention to fine detail and emphasis on painting from nature "en plein air". In his later years he adopted a looser style which was more impressionistic rather than being an exact copy of nature and this proved to be more popular.
Critic James Dafforne, writing in 1871 in The Art Journal said of Leader's style:
he shows a fine sense of the beauties of nature, in her varied aspects, allied with much poetic feeling. Mr. Leader's style is a happy medium between excess of detail and over-elaboration on the one hand, and dash of execution on the other. There is enough of finish in his works to satisfy those who look for carefulness, but this quality does not degenerate into affected trivialities, while they show breadth of manner and brilliant effect by judicious arrangement of light and shade. His colouring, too, is generally pure and true to nature.
According to The Art Journal of 1901, amongst Leader's most popular works during his lifetime were, In Autumn there shall be light, February Fill Dyke and The Valley of the Llugwy. And amongst his best works at the time it considered: Romantic Tintern – dreaming in the moonlight, In the evening it shall be light and The Old Holyhead road through North Wales.
Leader's paintings are currently exhibited publicly at the Victoria and Albert Museum and Tate Gallery in London, Huddersfield Art Gallery, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, and in Worcester (the largest collection of his works in Britain by far), Manchester and other regions in Britain. The Cambridge gallery in Santa Monica, US, also has several of his works, and he is included in the collection of the Chazen Museum of Art in Madison, Wisconsin. Many are also held by private collectors. There is a memorial, designed by Ella Naper to Leader in St Buryan's Church. In 2003, A Summer's Day (1888) sold at auction for £168,000 at Sotheby's.
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