George William Butcher Esq., 4 Apsley Villas, Horn Lane, Acton by 1897 (b 1851, a bank clerk according to the 1901 census);
Mrs Helen Young;
Sale, Christie's, 9th December 1932, Lot 58; bt Wadham Esq.;
Whitford & Hughes, London
Grosvenor Gallery, 1877, no 33 (as A Study)
Royal Academy, Winter Exhibition, Exhibition of Works by the late Lord Leighton of Stretton, 1897, no 183 (with original label verso)
Whitford and Hughes, Peintres de l’Ame, 1984, no 3 (as Head of a Girl)
Leonée and Richard Ormond, Lord Leighton, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 1975, p 175, no 448
This exquisite little study of 1877, in its original frame, pre-dates Leighton’s Nausicaa of 1878, and is apparently of the same model (who was probably Italian, perhaps from Capri, which Leighton visited many times). This model also sat for at least two other pictures painted shortly afterwards: Nicandraand Catarina, both exhibited in 1879. Nicandra is almost the same size as our study, and all three pictures deploy a similar ‘cappuccino’ palette of colours to Nausicaa, which Leonée Ormond described: ‘with its cool tonality of olive green, various shades of grey and of white, together with the flesh tones of the model’. The same girl seems to have sat for the leftmost girl in Winding the Skein (1878) and Amarilla (1879).
Leighton exhibited several studies of girl’s heads at around this time. This one was exhibited in 1877 at the first exhibition of the new Grosvenor Gallery, where it was reviewed by The Morning Post, 22 May 1877: ‘a small female head, so life-like and conversational that it has the semblance of speech, the lips looking as though they were in motion.' The Times wrote that it was ‘of great loveliness’. By this time Leighton was a senior Royal Academician, elected to the RA Council in 1869, and he was elected its President the following year. The Grosvenor Gallery posed a challenge to the supremacy of the RA, and was seen as a place of secession from it, so Leighton had to handle the threat with care; although he showed this little study at the very first exhibition, he reserved his largest paintings for the Royal Academy, thus preserving the pre-eminence of the older institution. The Grosvenor Gallery held its last exhibition in 1888.