Thursday, May 23, 2013

Leighton, Frederic

Flaming June
oil on canvas
120.6 × 120.6 cm (47 3/8 × 47 3/8 in.)
Museum of Art of Ponce, Puerto Rico

Flaming June is widely considered to be Leighton's magnum opus, showing his classicist nature. It is thought that the woman portrayed alludes to the figures of sleeping nymphs and naiads the Greeks often sculpted. The (toxic) Oleander branch in the top right, symbolizes the fragile link between sleep and death.

Flaming June was first begun as a motif to adorn a marble bath in one of Leighton's other works, Summer Slumber. He became so attached to the design that he decided to create it as a painting in its own right. The transparent material worn by the sleeping woman - through which her right nipple can be seen clearly - is typical of his artistic predilections, as are the stunningly rich colors and the perfectly recreated marble surround. Natural light too is a constant preoccupation for him, and here he allows the sunset in the background to appear as molten gold.
The position of the sleeping woman gave him a great deal of trouble. He made several preliminary sketches to determine the way in which she should lie; in particular he had difficulty making the angle of her right arm look natural. His studies show that the picture went through at least four evolutionary sketches before Leighton came to on the end result. Out of these studies, four are nude and one is draped. The draped figure looks the least lifelike, demonstrating Leighton's need to draw from a naked model in order to achieve a fidelity to nature.

This painting was auctioned in the 1960s, during a period of time known to be difficult for selling Victorian era paintings, where it failed to sell for its low reserve price of $140 USD (the equivalent of $840 in contemporary prices). Afterward, it was promptly purchased by the Ponce Museum of Art in Ponce, Puerto Rico where it currently resides.

Sir Frederic Leighton (1830 - 1896) was an English painter and sculptor who was President of the Royal Academy for almost two decades. The leading establishment figure in Victorian art, was the first artist to be ennobled. He was a classical painter producing highly finished pictures, and was also an excellent portraitist. He was a sophisticated, cosmopolitan figure, much of his early life having been spent in Germany and Italy. Throughout his life he was energetic, and hardworking, and his inability to take life more easily when in his sixties accelerated his death.  His funeral was at St. Paul's Cathedral. Leighton's magnificent home Leighton House, is now a museum.

Leighton was a lifelong bachelor. In later life his favorite model was Ada Alice Pullen, known as Dorothy Dene. George Bernard Shaw knew them both, and it is likely that they were the models for Professor Higgins and Eliza Doolitlle in Pygmalion.