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The architecture depicted in The Music Lesson is based on studies Leighton completed during his 1873 journey to Damascus. The costumes worn by the women were most likely made of luxe; lustrous fabrics purchased by the artist on this trip. The instrument, a Turkish ‘saz’, was probably his own. These non-Western elements provide an exoticising flair to the work.

This kind of painting - essentially subjectless but highly Romanticised, often showing very beautiful women or girls holding instruments, with exotic tiles/fabrics in warm, sensual colours - was being exhibited by high-profile artists, such as Rossetti, Burne Jones, and Albert Moore, around the same time. The two models featured here reoccur several times in Leighton’s oeuvre. The younger is Connie Gilchrist, who famously sat for Whistler and Holl, and was photographed by Lewis Carroll. She was twelve when the work was first shown and, in 1892, she married and became the Countess of Orkney.

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