Benjamin Williams Leader, hugely popular in his own lifetime, excelled in his portrayal of the English landscape. His “February Fill Dyke” (Birmingham City Art Gallery) exhibited at the Royal Academy of 1881, is the icon of Victorian landscape painting.
Leader was born Benjamin Williams in 1831, adopting the name Leader in 1857 to distinguish himself from the unrelated Williams family of painters. The Victorian demand for landscape painting was insatiable. Leader supplied the romance of Scotland, the tranquillity and beauty of North Wales, but above all, the idealised English countryside. Leader’s style in his earlier works owes a debt to the Pre-Raphaelites; however, by the 1880’s his style had broadened into a more naturalistic form, which he maintained for the rest of his career.
Leader exhibited at the Royal Academy between 1857 and 1922, Suffolk Street Galleries, the British Institute and the Birmingham Society of Artists. He was elected A.R.A. in 1883 and Royal Academician in 1898. He painted and exhibited abroad, receiving a gold medal in Paris in 1889. He was the premier Victorian landscape painter, renowned for “February Fill Dyke” and “Constructing the Manchester Ship Canal” (property of the National Trust).
His works can be found in museums in: Aberdeen; Birmingham; Blackburn; Bristol; Eastbourne; Hull; Liverpool; London, Tate Britain, Victoria and Albert Museum; Manchester; Melbourne; Reading; Rochdale; Salford; Sheffield and Southport.