Lieder ohne Worte Frederic Leighton Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Lieder Ohne Worte or translated into English Songs without words depicts a musically based impression dating back to 1861 from the same composed title for the piano by Felix Mendelssohn.

This cleverly designed, oil on canvas, draws the eye of the viewer to three separate sections using a mixture of both subtle, muted colourings with vibrant and energising tones. In the forefront this initially appearing intoxicated young lady slumps by the stairs but on second glance dreaminess is apparent through her deep set, almost somber eyes. She is draped with silken fabrics which flow and dance in a musical fashion across her curvatures. The blue and purple hews of her skirt appear to course across her legs towards the filling jug to the right of the painting.

Whilst the muted, beige colouring of her blouse caress her arms and bodice in a stream like trickle, bringing peace and tranquility to her being as her long fingers protrude from the blouson elongating her bone structure and the flow of water. Mousy, blonde curls frame her thoughtful face almost blending into the similarly toned background. Splashes of red bring this painting vibrancy alive through the girls slender lips, a small button on her blouse which then seamlessly leads you to the rouge water receptacle and across to the stained exit of the fountain drizzling its contents into the vessel below.

To the left of the painting an almost vase like figure melts into this canvas excepting the cherry red and velvet blue pieces she is holding. Elegantly it seems as though she is making her way to the ochre staircase which is presented to her draped in subtle clothing. In the background, the staircase juts around to the third and final section. In this black birds appear to melodically chorus whilst possibly masking the prowess of the lion spewing water from its jaws into the pool below. The whole painting lends itself to a clockwork motion of visual perfection as in composed music but with no finale.

Leighton painted this first significant piece, after returning to London from Europe, to connect with Mendelssohn's Songs without words as these were popular in England at that time. He also wanted to depict this girl listening to the mesmorising way water trickles and flows from the fountains amongst the melodious bird song. Thus creating a visual composition with no words spoken. The painting, standing at over a metre in height and just shy of a metre in width, was purchased by the Tate Gallery London in 1980 where it still hangs to this day.