Benjamin Williams Leader: Blest by the Suns of Home
at Worcester City Art Gallery & Museum
- Discover rarely displayed artworks by Worcester’s most famous artist
- See Benjamin Williams Leader’s The River Llugwy near Bettws-y-Coed, lent by Her Majesty The Queen from the Royal Collection.
Benjamin Williams Leader: Blest by the Suns of Home, at Worcester City Art Gallery and Museum, brings together important and rarely displayed artworks by Worcester’s most famous artist, placing them in the context of the First World War. The exhibition runs from 17 February until 2 June 2018.
Worcester’s most celebrated artist Benjamin Williams Leader was 83 when World War One broke out, changing lives across the world forever. He’d had a happy year personally with the birth of a new grandson and the sale of his painting The River Llugwy near Bettws-y-Coed to King George V. However, the war led to tragedy in Leader’s life when his son Benjamin Eastlake Leader, who was also a painter, was killed in action.
This exhibition will explore how the war impacted the elderly Leader’s life, the reception of his paintings and the country’s relationship with the landscape around them. With artworks from the Worcester City collection as well as loans from private and public collections, including The River Llugwy near Bettws-y-Ceod generously lent by Her Majesty The Queen from the Royal Collection, the exhibition is a testament to Leader’s ability to create vast and stirring rural visions in paint.
Born in Worcester in 1831 Benjamin Leader Williams (later to change his name to Williams Leader) was the son of civil engineer Edward Leader Williams, who designed the Diglis Lock. The young Leader grew up in Diglis House (now Diglis Hotel), attended the city’s Royal Grammar School and painted on the banks of the Severn with his father’s friend, the famous landscape artist John Constable. Leader began his career as a draftsman at his father’s firm but, unlike his brother who went on to design the Manchester Ship Canal, the young Leader found his calling outside of engineering, and studied at Worcester School of Design before going on to the Royal Academy Schools in 1854. Leader achieved recognition unusually early in his career at the Royal Academy, with his work selected for the prestigious Summer Exhibition during his first year of studying. This was the beginning of a long and prosperous career, with Leader exhibiting in the Summer Exhibition every year until he was 91 and his work attracting large sums of money.
By 1914, Leader’s work would have been considered old fashioned compared to the bold avant-garde British art world of the time, but it still had wide popular appeal. Picturesque landscape paintings of the natural world had long been a sought-after domestic decoration, and at times of fear and conflict such as World War One these images of an idealised British countryside took on greater meaning. Despite the fact that the majority of English people at this time lived in urban settings, countryside scenes became symbols of Britishness, ideologically imbued with almost spiritual meaning – a country which inspired people to risk their lives in order to protect it from the fate of the destroyed landscapes of France, Belgium and Germany.
Benjamin Williams Leader: Blest by the Suns of Home is part of Worcestershire World War One Hundred. Funded through Heritage Lottery Fund, Worcestershire World War One Hundred is one of the largest programmes of events across England commemorating the First World War, involving cultural and heritage organisations county-wide from 2014 until 2018.
Benjamin Williams Leader: Blest by the Suns of Home is free and open Monday-Saturday 10.30am-4.30pm.