Born as Benjamin Williams this famous artist added the surname Leader, his father’s middle name, to distinguish himself from the Williams family. Upon abandoning a profession in engineering for art, he became a pupil at the Royal Academy in 1853. The following year he showed his first picture there and continued to exhibit prolifically up until his death in 1923.
Leader achieved considerable success with his paintings. “February Fill Dyke”, exhibited in 1881, remains one of the most famous Victorian paintings and is a tribute to Leader’s artistic talents. The Royal Academy elected him an associate in 1883, and Academician in 1898. He also exhibited abroad, winning a Gold Medal in Paris in 1889.
Leader’s paintings were extremely popular in their own time and sold for high prices. Today Leader is recognised as one of the most accomplished Victorian artists of his day. He chose scenes from the Midlands, the Thames Valley and Wales, especially scenes around Bettws y Coed.
His earlier works reflect his admiration of the Pre-Raphaelites. However, he later developed a broader, more naturalistic style. A realistic feeling of space and lightness of atmosphere are characteristic of his work.
The work of Leader is represented in the Birmingham City Art Gallery, the Bristol City Art Gallery, the Manchester City Art Gallery, The Mappin Art Gallery, Sheffield, the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Tate Gallery, London.