In the painting Electra at the Tomb of Agamemnon, Victorian artist Frederic Leighton uses what can be considered one of his artistic signatures - an image in which a solitary female figure is the focus. In addition, this poignant work also reveals that Leighton was a master of not only depicting Classical subjects, but also creating moving and memorable paintings.
The topic of Electra at the Tomb of Agamemnon was inspired by Greek mythology and drama. Electra was the daughter of King Agamemnon. In legend, Agamemnon was murdered by his wife - and Electra’s mother - Clytemnestra. This tragedy haunted Electra, and in the painting, we see the heroine’s anguish over the death of her father.
Electra stands alone in the center of the composition, holding her hands to her head in a gesture of lamentation. She is covered in long, dark draperies, the color a symbol of mourning. On Electra’s right, there is a Doric column upon which a basket of flowers rests. The remaining details in the painting are simple but subtly effective, creating an atmosphere that recalls ancient Greece. In addition, the somber and subdued colors - soft earth tones - reinforce the feeling of sadness.
This painting shares similarities in both theme and subject with Lachrymae, one of Lord Leighton’s much later works. However, while Electra at the Tomb of Agamemnon deals with an event from Classical drama and myth, Lachrymae demonstrates that the artist could create paintings with much more abstract meanings with equal success.