C. R. Leslie was born in London to an American family from Maryland. His father was a clock and watchmaker representing his company in England. The family returned to America (Philadelphia) in 1800, and the death of his father in 1804 meant that Leslie grew up poor. He was apprenticed to a bookseller, who strongly disapproved at the young manís attempts at drawing, but was converted to supporting him after he drew an extremely good portrait of the actor G. F. Cooke who visited the town. Leslie was able to travel to London in 1811, bearing a letter of introduction to Benjamin West PRA, and from that time his real artistic studies commenced. He studied at the RA Schools, achieving various prizes and a fee of 100 guineas for his Saul and the Witch of Endor, his first large picture. His first big success was Roger de Coverley going to church accompanied by the Spectator (1817-18) and his reputation was further established with May Day in the time of Queen Elizabeth (1821). He was elected ARA in the same year, and RA in 1826.
Thereafter, he painted historical pictures, portraits and many subjects taken from Don Quixote. He married in 1825, and in 1833, took up the position of Teacher of Drawing at the West Point Military Academy. But the post took up too much time, and his wife suffered from the climate. A promise of a thousand pounds for a picture by an English patron was the final inducement, and Leslie was back in England, this time for good, just seven months after leaving. Leslieís best known work was The Queen Receiving the Sacrament after the Coronation. He wrote a book, Handbook for Young Painters, based upon his lectures as Professor of Painting at the Royal Academy, a position he achieved in 1848. He also wrote a biography of his friend John Constable. His son, George Dunlop Leslie RA, was also a painter.
Samples of Leslie's characters from Don Quixote may be seen in the Victoria and Albert Museum. A picnic scene hangs in the Geffrye Museum. In America, there are pictures by him in the Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia.
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