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Cymon and Iphigenia



Lord Frederic Leighton


03 Dec 1830 - 25 Jan 1896


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.




Media category


Materials used

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


Artist information

Lord Frederic Leighton

Works in the collection


Shown in 5 exhibitions

Exhibition history


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

Referenced in 79 publications


Renée Free, Art Gallery of New South Wales handbook, 'European', Sydney, 1988, p 42, col illus pp 42–43.

Renee Free, Catalogue of acquisitions 1976, 'Cymon and Iphigenia: "Renaissance and renaissnaces"', Sydney, 1976, pp 8–12, illus p 9.

Renée Free, Art and Australia, 'European Acquisitions: 1972-83', Sydney, Spring 1984, pp 63–67: p 63, col illus p 65.

Renée Free, AGNSW Collections, 'The Western Heritage, Renaissance to Twentieth Century', Sydney, 1994, p 135, col illus p 135.

Keren Hammerschlag, Women: a cultural review, vol 23, no 2, ‘The deathly sleep of Frederic Leighton’s painted women', Aug 2012, pp 201–15: pp 201, 204–09, col illus fig 1, p 203.

Bruce James, Art Gallery of New South Wales handbook, 'Western Collection: Paintings and Sculpture', Sydney, 1999, p 44, col illus p 44.

Stephen Jones, Magazine Antiques, ‘Frederic, Lord Leighton’, New York, Feb 1996, pp 292–303: p 303, col illus p 300.

Lord Leighton’, Studio, ‘Studies, London, 1896, pp 106–17: p 117.

Felice Mehlman, Antique collector, 'Victorian sentimentality', London, May 1978, p 57. Illustrates preparatory drawing.

Alice Meynell, Art Journal, ‘Cymon and Iphigenia’, London, May 1884, pp 129–32.

Mary Roberts, British Art Studies, issue 9, ‘The resistant materiality of Frederic Leighton’s Arab Hall’, Summer 2018, np, fig 3.

M H Spielmann, Magazine of Art, ‘The late Lord Leighton, PRA, DCL, LLD’, London, 1896, pp 197–216: pp 207, 214.

F G Stephens, Magazine of Art, 'The collection of Mr W Cuthbert Quilter, MP: The modern English masters – I', London, 1897, pp 121–28: pp 127–28, illus p 121.

Brook Turner, Sydney Morning Herald, ‘Leighton goes home’, Sydney, 07 Feb 1996, p 17.

Lord Leighton, New Haven, 1975, pp 130, 167–68, no 313, col illus pl VII.

Leighton, London, 1906, vol 1, p 25, vol 2, pp 258 note, 259, 389. Study illus vol 2, after p 256.

Olympian dreamers: Victorian classical painters 1860–1914, London, 1983, pp 54, 70–75, illus pp 76–77, fig 23.

Lord Leighton of Stretton, PRA, London, 1906, pp 126–27.

Catalogue of the highly important collection of ancient and modern pictures and water colour drawings of Sir W Cuthbert Quilter Bart who has disposed of his house and picture gallery, 74 South Audley Street, London, 09 Jul 1909, p 19, no 65, illus opp p 19.

Cymon and Iphigenia painted by F. Leighton: the story of the picture, London, 1884.

Sleeping Beauty, Tokyo.

Art Journal, 'Art Notes', London, 1883, pp 305–07: p 306.

The exhibition of the Royal Academy of Arts, MDCCCLXXXIV, the one hundred and sixteenth, London, 1884, p 14, no 278.

Second autumn exhibition, Manchester, 1884, p 30, no 391.

Art Journal, ‘The exhibition of the Royal Academy’, London, 1884, pp 209–11: p 209, illus (sketch) p 209.

Illustrated London News, London, 03 May 1884.

Magazine of Art, ‘Current art – I’, London, 1884, pp 347–52: p 350.

Times, 'The Royal Academy (first notice)', London, 03 May 1884, p 7.

Athenaeum, ‘The Royal Academy (first notice)', London, 03 May 1884, pp 571–73: p 572.

Builder, London, 03 May 1884, p 600.

Builder, 'The Royal Academy', London, 10 May 1884, pp 632–33: p 632.

The modern school of art, London, 1886-1888, pp 4–5.

Preferences in art, life and literature, London, 1892, pp 352–53.

Sir Frederic Leighton, Bart, PRA ..: an illustrated chronicle, London, 1895, pp xxx, 36–39, 71, illus opp p 36 (photogravure).

Catalogue of the loan collection of pictures by painters of the British school who have flourished during Her Majesty’s reign, London, 1897, p 17, no 20.

Catalogue of the reproductions of the late Lord Leighton’s pictures, London, [1896], p [7], illus (of photogravure).

Frederic, Lord Leighton, late President of the Royal Academy of Arts: an illustrated record of his life and his work, London, 1898, pp 32, 34, 51, 89, illus opp p 50 (photgravure).

British contemporary artists, London, 1899, p 111.

Beauty's awakening. Drawings by the Pre-Raphaelites and their contemporaries from the Lanigan Collection, Ottawa, 2015, p 92, fig 32.1, col illus p 92.

Drawings and studies in pencil, chalk & other mediums by the late Lord Leighton of Stretton, PRA, London, 1898, under captions to pls XXVI and XXVII.

The Royal Academy of Arts: a complete dictionary of contributors and their work from its foundation in 1769 to 1904, London, 1906, p 32.

Magazine of Art, ‘The Guildhall exhibition’, London, 1897, p 104.

Catalogue of the special loan collection of selected pictures illustrative of contemporary British art, Newcastle upon Tyne, 1907, p 31, no 81.

Sir Cuthbert Quilter’s pictures: London collection, London, [1909], p 46, illus opp p 46.

Builder, ‘The Burlington House and New Gallery exhibitions’, London, 09 Jan 1897, pp 29–30: p 30.

Athenaeum, 'Fine-art gossip', London, 10 Apr 1897, p 485.

The art of painting in the Queen’s reign, being a glance at some of the painters and paintings of the British school during the last sixty years, London, 1897, pp 180–81.

A century of loan exhibitions, 1813–1912, London, 1913, pp 673, 679.

Collection of oil paintings and watercolour drawings, the property of A B Triggs, Esq, Yass, NSW, London, [1925], p [41].

Catalogue of modern pictures and water-colour drawings, the properties of Leopold Albu, esq, deceased, late of 4 Hamilton Place, W1 (sold by order of the executors), London, 15 Jul 1938, p 11, no 42.

Old master & 18th & 19th century paintings, drawings & prints, London, 13 Mar 1969, p 22, no 225, illus opp p 13.

Fine Victorian pictures..., London, 13 Feb 1976, p 13, no 45, illus np, pl 6.

Report of the trustees of the Art Gallery of New South Wales: report covering the period January–December 1976, Sydney, 1977, pp 7, 20.

Olympian dreamers, an exhibition of Victorian classical paintings, watercolours, drawings and prints, to celebrate the publication of Christopher Wood’s ‘Olympian Dreamers’ by Constable in October 1983, London, 1983, under no 8.

Follow Me, ‘The worm in the bud’, Double Bay, Oct 1983-Nov 1983, col illus pp 120–21. Rreview of Ronald Pearsall 'The world of Victorian sexuality'.

The art of Lord Leighton, Oxford, 1990, p 104.

Art Gallery of New South Wales annual report 1991, Sydney, 1991, p 24.

Lord Leighton, London, 1995, np, col illus pl 27.

Art Gallery of New South Wales annual report 1996 [for the year ended 30 June 1996], Sydney, 1996, p 59.

Victorian pictures, drawings and watercolours, London, 07 Jun 1996, p 48, under no 564. No 564 is chalk study for Iphigenia.

Dictionnaire critique et documentaire des peintres, sculpteurs, dessinateurs et graveurs, Paris, 1999, vol 8, pp 463–64.

Pre-Raphaelites and Olympians, selected works of Victorian art from the John and Julie Schaeffer and the Art Gallery of New South Wales collections, Sydney, 2001, pp 5, 41, col illus p 41.

Athenaeum, ‘The Royal Academy – winter exhibition: Lord Leighton’s pictures (second notice)’, London, 06 Feb 1897, pp 189–90: p 190.

Saturday Review, ‘The picture galleries – III’, London, 17 May 1884, pp 641–42: p 641.

Nineteenth century British painting, 'The revival of the classical' George Frederic Watts, OM, RA (1817-1904) and Frederick, Lord Leighton, PRA (1830-96), London, 2000, p 323, illus p 323.

Frederick Leighton, London, 1904, pp 81, 89–90, 183–84, 196. Study illus opp p 90.

Frederic Leighton: death, mortality, resurrection, Farnham, 2015, pp 91–92, 94, 122, col illus pl 6.

Love and Death: art in the age of Queen Victoria, Adelaide, 2001-2002, p 98, col illus p 99.

Victorian painting, 'Leighton and the classical revival', London, 1999, pp 189, 192, illus p 184, pl 225.

British painting 1800–1990 in Australian and New Zealand public collections, Sydney, 1997, pp 122–23, no 1326, illus p 122.

Frederic, Lord Leighton: eminent Victorian artist, London, 1996, pp 199–200, no 89, p 202, col illus pl 89.

Frederick Lord Leighton, New York, 1996.

Frederic Lord Leighton, Tokyo, 1995, p 62, col illus p 63.

Dreams and realities: Victorian works on paper, Sydney, 1993, p 2.

Art Gallery of New South Wales catalogue of British paintings, Sydney, 1987, pp 109–10, illus p 109.

Portrait of a Gallery, 'European art in the old courts', Sydney, 1984, p 16, col illus p 16.

History and legend in some selected paintings at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 1980, p 5, illus p 5.

Australia's national collections, Sydney, 1980, p 250, col illus p 255.

Catalogue of acquisitions 1976, Sydney, 1978, p 81, no 251, illus p 81.