Benjamin Williams Leader England

3-12-1831 Worcester, ENG – 3-22-1923 Surrey, ENG

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Leader, Benjamin Williams

Benjamin Williams Leader father was a keen amateur artist – a friend of John Constable – and Benjamin would often accompany him on sketching trips along the banks of the River Severn. His brother, also Edward Leader Williams, later became a notable civil engineer who was knighted for his work, and is now mainly remembered for designing Manchester Ship Canal – which was to become the theme of Leader's largest painting.

Benjamin Williams Leader initially worked at his father's office as a draftsman while studying art in the evenings at the Worcester School of Design. In his free time he also did a lot of "open air" landscape painting.

In 1854, at the age of 23, he was admitted as a student to the Royal Academy Schools in London, and, unusually, in his first year, had a picture accepted for exhibition there, "Cottage children blowing bubbles", which was subsequently sold to an American buyer for £50 – a large sum in those days. Subsequently his work appeared in every summer exhibition at the academy until 1922, when Leader was 91 years old.

The inspiration for these early works was the countryside around Worcester itself. However, Leader did not finish his course of studies at the R. A, 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 traveled to Scotland, and painted "A Quiet pool in Glen Falloch" – exhibited at the R. A. in 1859. Such was the demand that much of his best work now went to private galleries and was never publicly exhibited.

For the next 10 years, Leader divided his time painting between the Severn Valley, Worcestershire, and Wales, producing many canvases.

In 1881, "February Fill Dyke" was exhibited at the Royal Academy to great acclaim and Leader was made an associate (ARA) in 1883, becoming a Royal Academician (RA) in 1898.

Benjamin Williams 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.

Benjamin Williams Leader's paintings are currently exhibited publicly at the Victoria and Albert Museum and Tate Gallery in London. In 2003, "A Summer's Day" (1888) sold at auction for $200,000 at Sotheby's.

Art Movement: Realism
Influences: John Constable
Traveled: Germany, Switzerland, France, Belgium
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