Biographical / Historical
Percy Leason (1889-1959) was a painter, illustrator, writer, and educator from Kaniva, Victoria in Australia. Leason took an interest in art at an early age winning first prize in painting at the 1904 State Fair. He later attended art school in the town of Nhill, and in 1906, he went to Melbourne to be an apprentice at Sands and McDougall Lithographers. Soon after starting his apprenticeship, Leason moved to the art department where he began drawing illustrations for products and advertisements. In the evenings, he attended the Melbourne Gallery School where he studied art under Bernard Hall and Frederick McCubbin. While in Melbourne, Leason associated himself with the Victorian Artist Society and lived a bohemian lifestyle. He began creating illustrations for books in 1914 and went on to do illustrations for the Sydney Bulletin, Melbourne Punch, Tabletalk Magazine, and the Melbourne Herald where he developed the Wiregrass cartoon series. In 1924, Leason and Max Meldrum, who Leason had met a few years before, discussed tonal realism, a systematic style of painting that uses light and shade to produce a misty quality. Leason's devotion to tonal realism along with his participation in Victorian Artist Society exhibitions helped advance his career. In 1934 Melbourne University commissioned him to do a series on Australian aborigines. He became interested in cave art and archeology during this time. In Cambridge, England in 1937 he presented his theory that cave artists sketched using dead animals as models.
Due to the impending World War, art scene rivalries, and the lack of commercial art employment prospects, Leason immigrated to New York in 1938 in search of more opportunities in the United States. Before emigrating to the U.S., he completed a portrait of Basil Burdett which now hangs in the Queensland Art Gallery in Brisbane, Australia. His career in New York included work for New York Daily News, Blue Book Magazine, the Saturday Evening Post, Street and Smith, and book illustrations for The Wizard of Oz by Frank Baum (Whitman Publishing Company) in 1939. In New York, Leason continued his opposition to modernist and expressionist art by aligning himself with the Salmagundi Club, Allied Artists, and the American Artist Professional League, all of which supported tonal realism. In association with Portraits Incorporated in New York, he painted the portraits of TV personality Arlene Francis, Michael Engel of Grumbacker art supplies, and Missouri congressman Dewey Short whose portrait is housed in the House of Representative's collection in Washington D.C.
By the late 1950's, Leason had difficulties within the art world because the trends in art no longer held a place for his tonal realism. He died in 1959 on Staten Island in New York. As a tribute to Leason after his death, the Staten Island Institute and the Salmagundi Club held retrospective exhibitions of his work.