Leighton was the son of the artist Charles Blair Leighton. He was educated at University College School, before becoming a student at the Royal Academy Schools. He married Katherine Nash in 1885 and they went on to have a son and daughter. He exhibited annually at the Royal Academy from 1878 to 1920.
Leighton was a fastidious craftsman, producing highly-finished, decorative pictures. It would appear that he left no diaries, and though he exhibited at the Royal Academy for over forty years, he was never an Academician or an Associate.