Charles Robert Leslie (1794-1859)

John Bell

Leslie was born in London, of American parents from Maryland. His family returned to America in 1800. Leslie travelled to London in 1811, bearing a letter of introduction to Benjamin West, President of the Royal Academy. He studied at the Royal Academy schools, and became an associate of the Royal Academy in 1821. He was elected a Royal Academician in 1826. He was known as a painter of literary and narrative scenes.

This painting illustrates an episode from Laurence Sterne's novel, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1760-67). It depicts the Widow Wadman seducing Tristram's uncle, Toby, by asking him to examine her eye for a speck of dust. Toby is forced to look, but sees nothing. However the widow's eye, 'full of gentle salutations - and soft responses', seduces him and he falls in love.

Leslie's painting was reproduced in countless engravings and further painted copies were made for Robert Vernon and John Sheepshanks. A surviving letter, written by Leslie in 1851, suggests that Bell must have owned an early version. In it the artist asks Bell for permission to copy his painting.

Image above: Uncle Toby and the Widow Wadman, 1842
Tate, London, 2007