Frederic Lord Leighton
Inscribed 'Pubd BY S.L. Fane / 49. Glasshouse Street / London W. June. 1906'
Bronze with a rich dark brown patination
Height 19 1/8 in. (48.5 cm)
Conceived circa 1886 and cast in 1906
Leighton exhibited Needless Alarms at the Royal Academy in 1886. In this occasion, the model was greatly admired by the painter John Everett Millais. Following the exhibition, Leighton presented him with the bronze; in return the painter executed Shelling Peas (1889), which he gave to Leighton and which is now in the collection of the Leighton House Museum. Along with Millais’ model, Leighton produced another cast using the lost wax technique, which he kept in his own collection.
In this sculpture, Leighton depicts a young girl peering over her left shoulder at a frog that has surprised her by croaking at her feet. She holds her hands close to her chest in a gesture of alarm that allows Leighton to display his accurate anatomical modelling and delicate handling of the female form.
Dorothy Dene (born Ada Pullan), Leighton’s favourite model, likely posed for the sculpture. This is obvious if one compares the present sculpture to the painting Crenaia, the Nymph of Dargel (1880), now in the Peréz Simón collection. The curly hair of the Nymph, which is parted in a wide fringe falling over the figure’s forehand, the soft modelling of her torso and thighs, and even the position of her arms echo that of the present piece. The visual similarities between Leighton’s sculptural and pictorial models are unquestionable, it is thus surprising that academic literature has yet to discuss the link between the present sculpture with Dorothy Dene.
Leighton, Crenaia, the Nymph of Dargel, oil on canvas, 1880, Simón Peréz Collection
Leighton’s relationship with Dene is well-documented; they first met in 1879, when she was only 19. From that time on, Leighton took personal care of her financial situation, also championing her acting career. Thanks to the artist, Dene became a successful actress and model, often taking part in Shakespeare, Sheridan and Wilde productions in Victorian London. Taking into account the large number of works Leighton produced after the model and the considerable gift of £10,000 (roughly worth a £1 million in today’s money) the artist left her and her family after his death, it seems plausible that the two entertained a romantic relationship for over 15 years.
From a strictly artistic point of view, Needless Alarm’s composition proved highly inspirational for a generation of younger sculptors. Alfred Gilbert’s own model Comedy and Tragedy, with its similar strong contrapposto and naked youthful form, was undoubtedly inspired by the present work. Likewise, Henry Pegram’s The Bather of 1895 follows a similar format.
The editor Arthur Leslie Collie published an edition of Needless Alarms in 1897 and one of these casts was shown in the Sculpture for the Home exhibition at the Fine Art Society in 1902. The present model belongs to a further small edition produced by S.L Fane in 1906, after Collie had ceased trading. Fane’s supervision certainly contributed to the quality of the present work, which displays a particularly fine patina as well as an exceptional quality of the cast.