Leighton visited Damascus in 1873 and made several pencil studies of the city's architecture and inhabitants. This work is an oil sketch for a larger painting entitled 'Portions of the Interior of the Grand Mosque of Damascus', which was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1875 and is now in the collection of the of the Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston. Leighton's interest in the Middle East led him to commission an 'Arab Hall' for his home in Holland Park, London, designed by his friend and architect George Aitchison. The Hall was decorated with Leighton's collection of Middle Eastern tiles and was completed in the late 1870s, at around the time Leighton was elected President of the Royal Academy.
The Great Mosque in Damascus was built between 706 and 715, under the Umayyad caliph al-Walid I. This atmospheric study of the Mosque focuses on the mimbar, used for delivering announcements and sermons. It is depicted here with the traditional cupola crowning its raised platform and with the entrance to its flight of steps marked by a coloured doorway.
Frederic, Lord Leighton was born in Scarborough but spent much of his childhood in Europe, with his family. When he was 16 his family settled in Frankfurt, where Leighton first studied art. He later moved to Italy. In 1855, Leighton’s reputation was secured when his ‘Cimabue’s Celebrated Madonna’ was bought by Queen Victoria at the Royal Academy. After spending time in Rome and Paris, Leighton moved to London in 1859. He continued to travel extensively throughout his career, but most frequently visited Italy. A trip to Damascus in 1873 influenced the style and design of the Arab Hall: an extension he commissioned for his Holland Park home in the 1870s. Leighton was President of the Royal Academy from 1878 until his death at the age of 65.
The artist's studio sale, Christie's, London, 13 July 1896 (Lot 189); from which sale purchased by 'Dunthorn': sold through Christie's, London, 'Col. J.B. Gaskell' sale, 3 May 1926 (Lot 250), as 'Interior of a Mosque'; from which sale purchased by 'Sampson'; sold through Lawson's, Sydney, 19 April 1996 (Lot 206), as 'English School, 19th century'; sold through Christie's, London, 'Victorian Pictures' sale, 10 June 2003 (Lot 112); from which sale purchased by the Government Art Collection
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