Benjamin Williams Leader RA (1831-1923) was a British landscape painter.
British artist Benjamin Williams Leader RA is predominantly known for meticulous landscapes that capture nature’s various moods in all her splendour. His father was a friend of John Constable’s and imbued his son with a passion for naturalism.
Born in Worcester, his formative years were spent working at his father’s office while studying in the evenings at the Worcester School of Design. At every opportunity, furthering his development by studying directly from nature. It’s said that, as a boy, he’d often accompany his Dad on sketching trips along the River Severn - mixing oil paints for him and meddling with the palette. These early experiences would’ve created plenty of positive memories as the young Leader honed his craft.
It’s fascinating to consider John Constable’s influence on Leader’s career and how their fortunes were so different. Throughout Constable’s career, he was blighted by negative criticism for his naturalistic style, with critics and most patrons, favouring the ‘antique’ landscapes of the old masters with their age-darkened appearance and brown hue. In one of his letters, Constable recalls a close friend who sought to achieve the right colour for his landscape by emulating the colour of a violin. Perplexed, Constable took the instrument out onto the lawn, laid it on the verdant grass, and reminded the amateur artist that the outside was, generally, more green than brown.
Leader, on the other hand, always aimed for naturalism, but worked during a time when it was widely accepted. Hence, he received glowing reviews from day one.
At 23, the Royal Academy (RA) Schools beckoned and Leader undertook his formal studies. Exhibiting a picture in his first year, which remarkably sold, catapulting the young man on an upward trajectory. In fact, he was so successful during this time that he left the Academy early, already selling numerous works to much acclaim.
In the early part of his career, his inspiration was gained from the scenery closest to home - Worcester and the surrounding environs. Picturesque cottages, farmhouses, winding rural tracks, field hands and churches. All came under his spell with careful handling and a keen understanding of light. Worcestershire was ‘Leader Country’ and he captured the region he loved like no other before him.
Wales, too, became a regular haunt and his accomplished work ‘The Churchyard at Betws-y-Coed’ was acquired by Prime Minister William Gladstone in 1863. While two years later, His ‘Autumn's Last Gleam’ was considered the finest landscape on display at the RA.
His popularity was understandable as he combined painstaking attention to detail with broader brushwork for areas requiring zest and life. This balance is hard to achieve without overworking - he managed to keep the spirit in, while portraying nature truthfully.
The RA was a regular haunt and he exhibited there every year between his debut at 23 through to his old age at 91. He was made an Associate in 1883 and elected a Royal Academician in 1898.
With his success came a comfortable lifestyle and later in life he moved into a Surrey mansion with his wife, Mary, who was also an artist. The couple had a son, Benjamin Eastlake Leader, who sadly died during World War I.
Today, you’ll find works by Benjamin Williams Leader RA at numerous museums with the largest collection held at Worcester City Art Gallery & Museum. The V&A, Tate Gallery in London, and Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery also hold examples. He remains one of the finest landscape painters in British history.
Born in Worcester, England to Edward Leader Williams and Sarah Sarah Whiting.
Worked alongside his father as a draughtsman while studying at the Worcester School of Design.
Enrolled at Royal Academy Schools, London.
Debuted at the Royal Academy where he continued to exhibit annually until 1922.
Changed his name to Benjamin Williams Leader.
Travelled to Scotland.
Moved from Worcester to Whittington.
‘The Churchyard at Bettwys-y-Coed’ purchased by Prime Minister William Gladstone.
‘Autumn's Last Gleam’ shown at the Royal Academy and deemed to be the finest landscape on display.
Married artist Mary Eastlake.
Birth of son Benjamin Eastlake Leader who became an artist.
Elected an Associate of the Royal Academy.
Moved to a large mansion in Shere near Guildford, Surrey.
Achieved the accolade of ‘Chevalier of the Legion of Honour’.
Elected a Royal Academician.
Death of son, Benjamin Eastlake Leader, during World War I.