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Lawrence Steigrad Fine Arts

Frank Moss Bennett

The Greek Runner Ladas Falling Dead as he Goes to Receive his Crown at Olympia

signed Frank M. Bennett in the lower right

50 x 40 inches (127 x 101.5 cm.)


In 1899 Frank Moss Bennett, a student at the Royal Academy School of Art, won the gold medal and travelling scholarship for his painting The Greek Runner Ladas Falling Dead as he Goes to Receive his Crown at Olympia. In 1900 it was exhibited at the Royal Academy where it proved to be a sensation as “thousands of reproductions of it were sold in a few months”.[1] The positive response in the British and American press was immediate and continued for years, as it had obviously struck a chord.

The Arcadian athlete Ladas was a long-distance runner, the fastest of his generation, who achieved Olympic victory in 460 or 456 B.C. It is believed that he died shortly thereafter at the stadium or on the journey home.[2] In a subject rarely painted, Bennett chose to vividly portray Ladas’ collapse as he is awarded the laurel crown of victory. Draped only in a yellow chlamys, Ladas reaches for the falling wreath with his right hand while clutching his heart with his left. The judges and entire audience look on in horror and disbelief. At his feet are a dead palm, the other awarded symbol of victory, along with a fallen flower. Overhead is a decorative frieze of a chariot race, one of the most popular events of the Olympic Games, from which a bundle of laurel is suspended awaiting other victors. While in the upper right a darkened statue of Nike the Winged Goddess of Victory, symbolic of the sound of speed, movement, power, and motivation, strikes a final poignant note. Described in the press as a work of the Pre-Raphaelite school, reflective of the contemporary passion for classical subjects, the cruel injustice of Ladas’ fate at the pinnacle of his fame and success tugged at the heartstrings of its viewers.

The awarded travelling scholarship gave Bennett the opportunity to journey throughout Italy painting for one year. This he did in the company of his friend and fellow artist Eddie Wells. Upon his return such was the notoriety of Ladas that his career was set and he “seldom had a completed picture in his studio for more than a few weeks.”[3] He painted portraits, landscapes, interior scenes and what he is now best remembered for works of genre.

The genre subjects ranged from contemporary life to costume scenes often of historical figures from the sixteenth through nineteenth centuries or period pieces featuring primarily what was then regarded as the manly pursuits of gaming, hunting, fishing, drinking, feasting and other pastimes such as building model ships. These works proved extremely popular, and their images were widely dispersed through prints, calendars, blotters, tin canisters, liquor bottle labels, gaming cards, and advertisements.[4]

Having married in 1907 with Margaret Pellow and had two children, such means enabled him to support his family at a time when many other artists struggled to survive. Although he exhibited at the Royal Academy, the Royal Institute of the Painters in Watercolors and the Paris Salon, he rarely strayed from what had proven steadily successful.[5] Never again would any other work reach the high drama, overt sensuality, and singular impact that Ladas achieved when he was just a student in 1899. By 1912 in an article on his work that appeared in Pearson’s Magazine, Bennett somewhat mystifyingly attempted to distance himself deriding the painting, having rejected all modern trends, describing himself as “an earnest and faithful follower of the teaching of the old masters, from whom he believe[d] all that is worth knowing can be learnt”.[6] Perhaps the painting had proved too prophetic of his own career.

Privately owned since it was painted, last on public view in 1907 at the Art Institute of Chicago, continually noted in the literature on the artist, it is with great pleasure that we are able to reintroduce Frank Moss Bennett’s masterwork The Greek Runner Ladas Falling Dead as he Goes to Receive his Crown at Olympia.

[1] Walter T. Roberts, “Story Pictures”, Pearson’s Magazine, op.cit., p. 459.

[2] Victor John Matthews, “ Ladas the Long-Distance Runner” in South African Journals, at 297doi, 2007; and Jiri Kouril, Forgotten Heroes of Ancient Greek Olympic Games, Ovid University of Constanta at

[3] Walter T. Roberts, “Story Pictures”, Pearson’s Magazine, op.cit., p. 459.

[4] Maureen Elizabeth Son, op.cit., pp. 59-66.

[5] Ibid, pp. 6-7, 69.

[6] Walter T. Roberts, “ Story Pictures”, Pearson’s Magazine, op.cit., p. 464.