As part of its ongoing mission to bring 19th century art works to contemporary audiences, Cambridge Art Gallery presents an exhibition of paintings by noted Victorian-era British landscape painter, Benjamin Williams Leader (1831-1923).

Opening receptions are planned for 7 p.m. Thursday and Saturday, October 12th and 14th, at the Cambridge Art Gallery, 200 26th St., Santa Monica. Admission is free, but reservations are required. Each reception will feature a 7:30 pm. lecture by scholar/author Ruth Wood, who wrote the biography Benjamin Williams Leader, R.A., His Life and Paintings, published by Antique Collectors’ Club in1998.

The show remains on display through Thursday, November 30th.

Known for his archetypical natural scenes and atmospheric effects, Leader was widely admired in Britain in his lifetime. Upon his election to the Royal Academy of Arts, The Art Journal called Leader “one of the most truly national painters the British Isles have ever produced,” according to the Cambridge Gallery.

Though he is represented in the collections of top British museums — including the Tate Gallery, the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Royal Academy of Arts — Leader remains little-known in the United States, according to Cambridge Gallery.

Cambridge Art Gallery president Amanda E. Shore says she is determined to introduce this overlooked master to American collectors.

“Leader captured the truth of nature,” says Shore. “No other landscape painter of the Victorian era captivated an audience like Benjamin Williams Leader”

Leader was born in 1831 in Worcester, England, the third of 11 children. His father, a civil engineer and amateur painter, was an admirer of Constable, who also inspired his son. Leader’s early artistic training was as a draughtsman at the Worcester School of Design.

In 1854, following a number of years working for his father, Leader enrolled at the Royal Academy Schools in London. There, he felt frustration at the prevailing emphasis on the figure, declaring, “I have made up my mind to be a landscape painter and nothing else,” according to Cambridge Art Gallery.

With their bright colors, crisp finishes and attention to detail, Leader’s early works show the influence of the then-fashionable Pre-Raphaelites. By the late 1850s, his work had attracted the attention of major London art dealers, who catered to the demands of an increasingly prosperous middle class. With his career on the rise, Leader traveled widely, producing tableaus of countrysides throughout the British Isles and Europe.

He exhibited in 1865 at the Exposition Universelle in Paris, where he was inspired by the naturalism and plein-air technique of the Barbizon School.

Leader’s own work began to shift toward a more fluid style, emphasizing the effects of light and atmosphere. Though still a sensitive colorist, he maintained that landscape could be conveyed even in black and white, as “light and shade are literally everything in landscape art.”

To capture the full force of his impressions, the artist would portray dramatic times of day, such as the burning glow of sunset, or the sparkle of an early morning rain.

Success evaded Leader until late in his career. After exhibiting faithfully for 30 years, he was elected an associate of the Royal Academy in 1883 and finally, at the age of 67, a full Academician in 1898. He died at 92.

Reservations, (310) 451-2888.

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