This painting of a languid beauty is one of Lord Leighton's earlier works. And the title of the image - Odalisque - indicates that the subject was not inspired by Classical mythology. Instead, the painting appears to be influenced by the fashionable Nineteenth century obsession with exotic women.
Odalisque is a word that refers to a female slave or concubine. Many Nineteenth century artists delighted in depicting these harem women, including Eugène Delacroix and especially J.A.D. Ingres. In fact, it is possible that Leighton was directly influenced by the opulent odalisques of Ingres. Indeed, there are subtle compositional similarities between Leighton's Odalisque and the painting by Ingres titled La Source.
The flowing curve of the arms of the Odalisque is echoed by the graceful sweep of the swan's form. And the delicate beauty of these two figures - woman and swan - complement each other. Clearly, Leighton was a master of creating pleasing and harmonious compositions.
It is worth noting that Leighton excelled at depicting solitary figures of young women. This early painting is a hint of what is to come in Lord Leighton's later works.
The Art of Lord Leighton
In this beautiful book, author Christopher Newall examines the life and works of eminent Victorian artist Frederic Leighton. The chapters deal with Leighton's evolution as a painter, from his early phase as "The Outsider", to success as "The President of the Royal Academy". And there are plenty of gorgeous color images to complement the text.