Leighton titled this work Lachrymae, the Latin word for “tears.” Advance press for the Royal Academy exhibition in London in 1895 described the picture as a “type of stately grief,” noting the woman bent despondently over a funerary monument; the withered wreath at her feet; and the cypresses, symbolic of mourning. Painted near the end of Leighton’s life, the scene reflects an abiding passion for antiquity that made him the leading light of British classicism. Particularly notable are the three vessels (based on Greek prototypes) and the tabernacle frame. Selected by the artist, it suggests a temple doorway—complete with a trompe l’oeil leaf on the flagstones.
As a child, Leighton traveled widely with his family on the continent and studied painting in various European cities, before settling in London in 1859. Elected president of the Royal Academy in 1878 by a large majority, he became Victorian painting's spokesman and figurehead, known for his elegant, nostalgic, academic style. Raised to the peerage as Lord Leighton of Stretton in 1896, the year of his death, he nevertheless represented the end of an era and left no pupils or followers.
Leighton’s title, Latin for "tears," indicates that this figure draped in Victorian mourning black personifies grief. The artist, traditionally educated, was familiar with the art and literature of antiquity. On various occasions he used Greek vases as props, and Ian Jenkins (1983) has identified three vase types in Lachrymae: a white-ground hydria stands on the Doric grave stele, while at its foot rest a red-figured kylix and a kalpis. The hydria, according to Jenkins, is based on one in the British Museum that depicts women fetching water from a fountain. Dietrich von Bothmer (1973) of the Metropolitan Museum pointed out that the source for the kylix decorated with a figure of Hermes is a cup in the manner of the Euaion Painter in the Louvre. It is even possible that the entire composition was inspired by a mourning scene from an Attic white-ground lekythos, a vessel intended to hold offerings of oil at a tomb. The classicizing frame (see Additional Images, fig. 1) is the original, having been ordered by the artist, and the painting is in an exceptionally fine state of preservation.
A compositional study in chalks and preliminary drawings for the head of the figure and for the drapery around the column are in the Leighton House Museum, London; there is also a drawing of a gnarled cypress tree beside a cloister that Leighton made in Florence in 1854 and used here for reference. A linear sketch of the whole that has been squared for transfer is in the Royal Academy, London. A drawing for the drapery of the grieving figure belonged to the artist when it was published in 1895 (see Spielmann 1895), but is not among the six hundred or more sheets now at Leighton House, and its location is unknown.
The model had been identified simply as a "Miss Lloyd" until Martin Postle (1996) found an article about her in the London Sunday Express for October 22, 1933, in which she described herself as the daughter of a bankrupt Shropshire squire and stated that she also posed for Millais, Alma-Tadema, and Burne-Jones. Postle believes that Lloyd sat not only for Lachrymae but also for 'Twixt Hope and Fear (private collection) and probably for Flaming June (Museo de Arte de Ponce, Fundación Luis A. Ferré), Leighton’s best-known work. All three were exhibited at the 1895 Royal Academy exhibition, and all appear in a photograph of Leighton’s studio taken just after his death (see Daniel Robbins and Reena Suleman, Leighton House Museum, Holland Park Road, Kensington, London, 2005, ill. p. 56).
[2012; adapted from Baetjer 2009]
[Tooth, London, until 1896; sold to MMA]
London. Royal Academy of Arts. "Summer Exhibition," May–July 1895, no. 182 (as "Lachrymae").
New York. Wildenstein. "From Realism to Symbolism: Whistler and His World," March 4–April 3, 1971, no. 92.
Philadelphia Museum of Art. "From Realism to Symbolism: Whistler and His World," April 15–May 23, 1971, no. 92.
Manchester. City Art Gallery. "Victorian High Renaissance," September 1–October 15, 1978, no. 62.
Minneapolis Institute of Arts. "Victorian High Renaissance," November 19, 1978–January 7, 1979, no. 62.
Brooklyn Museum. "Victorian High Renaissance," February 10–April 8, 1979, no. 62.
Athens. National Pinakothiki, Alexander Soutzos Museum. "Treasures from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: Memories and Revivals of the Classical Spirit," September 24–December 31, 1979, no. 105.
New Haven. Yale Center for British Art. "The Substance or the Shadow: Images of Victorian Womanhood," April 14–June 13, 1982, no. 51.
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. "Lost Paradise: Symbolist Europe," June 8–October 15, 1995, no. 245.
London. Royal Academy of Arts. "Frederic Leighton, 1830–1896," February 15–April 21, 1996, no. 120.
Martigny. Fondation Pierre Gianadda. "The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: Chefs-d'œuvre de la peinture européenne," June 23–November 12, 2006, no. 24.
Barcelona. Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya. "Grandes maestros de la pintura europea de The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Nueva York: De El Greco a Cézanne," December 1, 2006–March 4, 2007, no. 19.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. "Homer, Leighton, Manet: Paintings from The Metropolitan Museum of Art," May 25–July 7, 2013, no catalogue.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Pre-Raphaelite Legacy: British Art and Design," May 20–October 26, 2014, no catalogue.
London. Leighton House Museum. "Flaming June: The Making of an Icon," November 4, 2016–April 2, 2017, no. 12.
[F. G. Stephens]. "Fine-Art Gossip." Athenæum no. 3514 (March 2, 1895), p. 290, describes five of Leighton's proposed Academy exhibits; contrasts "Flaming June" with "Lachrymae".
[F. G. Stephens]. "Fine Arts: The Royal Academy (First Notice)." Athenæum no. 3523 (May 4, 1895), p. 576, describes it as a "realization of [Leighton's] idea of how a hero's betrothed visited the ashes of her lover slain in battle".
"The Royal Academy." Times (May 4, 1895), p. 12.
Claude Phillips. "Fine Art: The Royal Academy, II." The Academy no. 1203 (May 25, 1895), p. 449, criticizes Leighton for "placing on a Doric half-column of marble a painted earthenware vase of the fifth century B.C.".
R. Jope Slade. "The Royal Academy of Arts, 1895." Art-Journal (1895), p. 164, calls it Leighton's most important work exhibited, "the stateliest of them all"; reproduces [p. 161] a draped figure study in chalk on brown paper.
M. H. Spielmann. "The Royal Academy Exhibition, I." Magazine of Art (1895), p. 243, calls the figure "the very personification of depression"; reproduces the same study for the draped figure [p. 241] and two others, for the head and the drapery around the column [p. 243].
Ernest Rhys. Sir Frederic Leighton, Bart., P.R.A.: An Illustrated Chronicle. London, 1895, p. 72.
"Metropolitan Museum of Art: New Purchases and Loans." New York Times (May 4, 1896), p. 4.
William Sharp. "The Art Treasures of America (Concluded.)." Living Age, 7th ser., 1 (December 3, 1898), p. 603.
Arthur Hoeber. The Treasures of The Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York. New York, 1899, pp. 99–100, ill.
Ernest Rhys. Frederic Lord Leighton: An Illustrated Record of His Life and Work. London, 1900, pp. 51, 130.
Alice Corkran. Frederic Leighton. London, 1904, pp. 95, 199.
Edgcumbe Staley. Lord Leighton of Stretton, P.R.A. London, 1906, pp. 159, 215–16, 249, mentions the "solemn-looking cypress-trees, from a very early study in water-colour done at Florence in 1854"; notes that this drawing, signed "F.L., Florence", is at Leighton House, in addition to a pencil drawing of the same subject and a sketch for the whole picture.
Mrs. Russell Barrington. The Life, Letters and Work of Frederic Leighton. New York, 1906, vol. 2, pp. 260, 317, 335, 375, 392.
Masters in Art: Leighton 9 (1908), pp. 27, 37, 40, pl. 7.
From Realism to Symbolism: Whistler and His World. Exh. cat., Wildenstein. New York, 1971, p. 95, no. 92, compares the pose to that of Whistler's "Symphony in White".
Dietrich von Bothmer. Memo to Everett Fahy. January 26, 1973, proposes that in all probability the Attic red-figured cup at the base of the column is Louvre G 471, bought in 1879 [see J. D. Beazley, "Attic Red-Figure Vase-Painters", Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2nd ed., 1963, vol. 2, p. 798, no. 1].
Leonée Ormond and Richard Ormond. Lord Leighton. New Haven, 1975, pp. 129, 173, no. 390, pl. 185, date it about 1895 and suggest that it may have been inspired by a statue of Melpomene in the British Museum.
Leonée Ormond and Richard Ormond inVictorian High Renaissance. Exh. cat., City Art Gallery, Manchester. Minneapolis, 1978, pp. 97, 125–26, no. 62, ill. p. 125 and colorpl. 8.
Keith Roberts. "Review: The "Victorian High Renaissance" Exhibition: Manchester, Minneapolis & Brooklyn." Burlington Magazine 120 (October 1978), p. 696.
Hilarie Faberman inThe Substance or the Shadow: Images of Victorian Womanhood. Exh. cat., Yale Center for British Art, Yale University. New Haven, 1982, p. 102.
Susan P. Casteras. The Substance or the Shadow: Images of Victorian Womanhood. Exh. cat., Yale Center for British Art, Yale University. New Haven, 1982, pp. 44, 83, no. 51, pl. 48, notes that the Victorians would have associated the fallen laurel wreath with past glory, the myrtle with love, the cypresses with death, and the ivy garland with fidelity.
Ian Jenkins. "Frederic Lord Leighton and Greek vases." Burlington Magazine 125 (October 1983), p. 601, fig. 25, notes that the fountain-house scene on the hydria (B331) [fig. 21] appears on vases in Leighton's "Captive Andromache" (about 1888; City Art Gallery, Manchester) and "At the Fountain" (1892; Milwaukee Art Center); states that the composition itself may have been inspired by vase painting, or, more specifically, by the tableau of Electra mourning at the funerary stele of Agamemnon in G. C. Warr's 1886 version of Aeschylus's "Oresteia".
Christopher Wood. Olympian Dreamers: Victorian Classical Painters, 1860–1914. London, 1983, p. 70, fig. 21.
Joseph A. Kestner. Mythology and Misogyny: The Social Discourse of Nineteenth-Century British Classical-Subject Painting. Madison, 1989, pp. 164–65, pl. 3-23.
Christopher Newall. The Art of Lord Leighton. Oxford, 1990, p. 136, colorpl. 95.
Lynn Roberts inIn Perfect Harmony: Picture + Frame, 1850–1920. Exh. cat., Van Gogh Museum. Amsterdam, 1995, p. 85, fig. 64 (1895 photograph of Leighton's studio), notes that such aedicular frames "recall the portals of Greek temples".
Jean Clair inLost Paradise: Symbolist Europe. Exh. cat., Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Montreal, 1995, p. 182, no. 245, colorpl. 230.
Stephen Jones inFrederic Leighton, 1830–1896. Exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts, London. New York, 1996, p. 235, no. 120, ill. (color), suggests that the choice of subject may have reflected Leighton's declining health or the death in 1892 of his father.
Christopher Newall inFrederic Leighton, 1830–1896. Exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts. London, 1996, pp. 194, 236, notes that it was first shown in Leighton's studio in March 1895 with "Flaming June".
Martin Postle. "Leighton's Lost Model: The Rediscovery of Mary Lloyd." Apollo 143 (February 1996), pp. 27, 29, fig. 6, quotes Sir John Everett Millais's son's observation that the model for his father's "A Disciple" (Tate Britain, London) was a woman named Mary Lloyd, who had sat for Leighton since at least 1893 and had been the model for this picture.
Rosemary Barrow. Studies in British Art (Frederic Leighton: Antiquity, Renaissance, Modernity). Vol. 5, Drapery, Sculpture and the Praxitelean Ideal. 1999, pp. 51, 62.
Tim Barringer. "Rethinking Delaroche/Recovering Leighton." Victorian Studies 44 (Autumn 2001), pp. 1–2, 9–10 n. 12, fig. 1.
David Peters Corbett. The World in Paint: Modern Art and Visuality in England, 1848–1914. University Park, Pa., 2004, pp. 102, 278 n. 57, fig. 34 (color).
Katharine Baetjer inThe Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: Chefs-d'œuvre de la peinture européenne. Exh. cat., Fondation Pierre Gianadda. Martigny, 2006, pp. 15, 138–40, no. 24, ill. (color) [Catalan ed., Barcelona, 2006, pp. 17, 76–79, no. 19, ill. (color, overall and details)], notes that "it is possible that the entire composition was inspired by a mourning scene from an Attic white-ground lekythos, a vessel intended to hold offerings of oil at a tomb"; states that its present frame was ordered by Leighton and that the picture is in "an exceptionally fine state of preservation".
Alison Smith inA Victorian Master: Drawings by Frederic, Lord Leighton. Exh. cat., Leighton House Museum. London, 2006, p. 20, notes that Leighton adapted the cypress tree in the background from a drawing made in Florence in 1854 (Leighton House Museum, London).
Daniel Robbins inA Victorian Master: Drawings by Frederic, Lord Leighton. Exh. cat., Leighton House Museum. London, 2006, p. 33, under no. 1.6.
Philippa Martin inA Victorian Master: Drawings by Frederic, Lord Leighton. Exh. cat., Leighton House Museum. London, 2006, p. 100.
Rebecca A. Rabinow inMasterpieces of European Painting, 1800–1920, in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2007, pp. 79, 266, no. 73, ill. (color and black and white).
Katharine Baetjer. British Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1575–1875. New York, 2009, pp. 286–88, no. 136, ill. (color).