Clare Leighton

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Clara Ellaline Hope Leighton (sometimes Clare Veronica Hope Leighton) (12 April 1898 - 4 November 1989) was an English/American artist, writer and illustrator, best known for her wood engravings.

Early life and education[edit]

Clare Leighton was born in London on 12 April 1898,[1] the daughter of Robert Leighton (1858-1934) and Marie Connor Leighton (1865-1941), both authors. Clare's early life was lived in the shadow of her older brother, Roland - her mother's favorite as demonstrated by her family nickname of "the bystander". Her early efforts at painting were however encouraged by her parents and her uncle Jack Leighton, an artist and illustrator. In 1915, she began formal studies at the Brighton College of Art and later trained at the Slade School of Fine Art (1921–23), and the Central School of Arts and Crafts, where she studied wood engraving under Noel Rooke.

After completing her studies, Leighton took time to travel through Europe; among her stops were Italy, France, and the Balkans. Through her sketching of the landscapes and lower class workers, she developed her affinity for the portrayal of rural life.[2]


During the late 1920s and 1930s, Leighton visited the United States on a number of lecture tours and she emigrated to the US in 1939. She lived in Baltimore for a while and became friends with H. L. Mencken.[3] She became a naturalized citizen in 1945. From 1943 to 1945 she was a member of the Department of Art, Aesthetics, and Music at Duke University.[4] In 1945 she was also elected into the National Academy of Design as an Associate member and became a full Academician in 1949.

Over the course of a long and prolific career, she wrote and illustrated numerous books praising the virtues of the countryside and the people who worked the land. During the 1920s and 1930s, as the world around her became increasingly technological, industrial, and urban, Leighton portrayed rural working men and women. In the 1950s she created designs for Steuben Glass, Wedgwood plates, several stained glass windows for churches in New England and for the transept windows of Worcester Cathedral, England.[1]

The best known of her books are The Farmer's Year (1933; a calendar of English husbandry), Four Hedges - A Gardener's Chronicle (1935; the development of a garden from a meadow she had bought in the Chilterns) and Tempestuous Petticoat; The story of an invincible Edwardian (1948; describing her childhood and her bohemian mother). Autobiographical text and illustrations are available in Clare Leighton: the growth and shaping of an artist-writer, published 2009.

Personal life[edit]

Leighton had two brothers: the older Roland Leighton, immortalised in Vera Brittain's memoir, Testament of Youth, was killed in action, December 1915; the younger Evelyn, a Royal Navy officer, received the OBE in 1942.

Clare Leighton and the radical journalist H. N. Brailsford,[1] lived together for several years after they met in 1928. He was separated from a wife who refused him a divorce. When Brailsford's wife died in 1937, leaving the way clear for the couple to marry, he suffered an emotional breakdown, destroying his relationship with Leighton who left for a new life in the US in 1939. She never married.

Leighton died 4 November 1989 and her ashes are buried in a cemetery in Waterbury, Connecticut.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d Campbell, 2004
  2. ^ "Clare Leighton [1898 – 1989]". The Bookroom Art Press. Retrieved 2014-09-23. 
  3. ^ Leighton, Cynthia, "Cynical Fantasy," Menckeniana Quarterly Review No. 35 (Fall 1970), at 1. His letters to her are preserved at the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, Maryland.
  4. ^ "Guide to the Clare Leighton Papers, 1940-1968". David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library. Retrieved 2016-09-24. 


  • Colin Campbell, ‘Leighton, Clara Ellaline Hope (1898–1989)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
  • NMWA biography

External links[edit]