|This statuette is a reduced scale cast from a plaster presented to the Royal Academy by Leighton's sisters, Mrs Orr and Mrs Matthews in 1896. Leighton designed his bronze sculpture ‘The Sluggard’ (1885, Tate Britain) as a pendant to ‘An Athlete Struggling with a Python’ (1877, Tate Britain). The first study for the bronze was modelled in 1882 but Leighton continued to work on the subject for several years before exhibiting it at the Royal Academy in 1886. Like ‘An Athlete Struggling with a Python’ the figure of the Sluggard was based on an Italian model, in this case Giuseppe Valona. Edgcumbe Staley described the moment when Leighton had the idea for the subject:|
‘Giuseppe Valona, the model, a man of fine proportions, weary one day of posing in the studio, threw himself back, stretched out his arms and gave a great yawn. Leighton saw the whole performance and fixed it roughly in clay straight off.’ (Lord Leighton of Stretton,1906)
Leighton initially titled the sculpture ‘An Athlete awakening from Sleep’ but may have felt that the new title better emphasised the languid mood of the piece. The victor’s garland on which the Sluggard stands also enhances the lazy abandonment of his pose.
In the late nineteenth century Arthur Leslie Collie produced reduced scale bronze editions of 'The Sluggard', which were cast by the Singer Foundry. These statuettes were regarded as ideal objects to decorate fashionable and particularly Aesthetic domestic interiors. It is thought that Collie eventually sold the copyright to the foundry, which produced statuettes of 'The Sluggard' well into the twentieth century.
Thomas Brock, R.A. designed Leighton's tomb monument in St. Paul's Cathedral (1902). At either end of an effigy of Leighton are figures representing Painting and Sculpture at head and foot respectively. The figure of Sculpture holds a statuette of 'The Sluggard', the original of which, like 'An Athlete struggling with a Python' had been modelled in Brock's studio.