The beauty of Flaming June fills my senses every time I see her; my skin imagines the feel of the apricot gold silk brushing against it, the scents from oleander and the summer sun tease. In the cold, barren days of winter, the girl in repose promises better days bursting with sunshine and soft breezes.
The story of Flaming June does not begin with how the artist created her, but with something more intriguing. One day in 1962, an Irish builder walked into a junk shop in Battersea Rise, south London, carrying a painting in an elaborate gilt frame. He said that he had found it behind a panel above a chimney piece while demolishing a nearby house. Hoping to sell it for a few pounds, he haggled with the shop owner before agreeing to the price of 60 pounds. Unbeknownst to him, the picture was Flaming June (1895) by Victorian artist Frederic Leighton, (1830-1896).
While this back story may be a questionable fabrication, art history remains uncertain on the painting’s provenience between 1930 and 1962. However, the anecdote has attached itself to the history of the painting. The element of truth lies in the fact that in the 1960s Victorian art was not a great money making commodity. This ravishing piece could easily have gone unrecognized on the market, the frame being considered worth more than the masterpiece itself.
Not long after, art dealer Jeremy Maas acquired the painting and Flaming June was offered to various British galleries, but was turned away with no interest. The summer of 1963 brought a different buyer, Luis A. Ferre, founder of the Museo de Arte de Ponce in Puerto Rico, and for 2,000 pounds, Flaming June is now the show stopper at this idyllic Caribbean setting.
A remarkable study for Flaming June was discovered hanging discreetly behind a bedroom door in an English country mansion. The head study for the painting emerged from a 16th century manor house owned by Mary, Duchess of Roxburghe. The study joins an existing nude and drapery studies for the painting.
A new exhibition at Leighton House, Flaming June: The Making of an Icon, brings the image back for display, in a sense of coming home. Leighton House is where the artist painted the icon, before a brief display to the public. A photograph from 1895 shows Flaming June, in the distinctive frame, resting on an easel inside Leighton’s studio on the first floor of the ‘private palace of art’ in Holland Park. Alongside five other paintings that were submitted to the annual exhibition of the Royal Academy.
The exhibition consists of paintings produced by Leighton over the autumn and winter of 1894-5, soon after the painter suffered the first of the angina attacks that would eventually kill him in 1896. Each image represents a single female figure, but Flaming June is the only one to deploy color in such an intense and incendiary manner.
The model for Flaming June is considered to be Dorothy Dene, whom Leighton met in 1879. The pair became so close that the artist left her the substantial sum of 5000 pounds after his death, perhaps offering a kind of revelatory autobiographical statement.
Paintings travel random, cliff-hanging paths towards becoming icons. Born, discovered, forgotten, sold and only an honest few maintain the reputation of masterpiece. For Flaming June, this journey is as good as it gets.
Random Twitter Archives and Gems
National Archives UK shared a page of ciphers used by Mary Queen of Scots, who was executed 430 years ago February 8th.
The Met Museum made 375000 images open access.
From the British Museum archive, Peter the Great died February 8 1725, he introduced a beard tax – this token was proof of payment.
@NS_Archives Nova Scotia Archives February 8 1879 Sir Sanford Fleming proposed Standard Time.
@RoyalSociety Dmitri Mendeleev born February 8 1833 Russian chemist, inventor and periodic table founder.
Thanks for catching up with me on #MuseumMonday!