Tuesday, May 5, 2015


Frick Collection June 9 through September 6, 2015 

Born in Scarborough, Yorkshire, in 1830, Frederic Leighton was one of the  most renowned artists of the Victorian era. He  was a painter and sculptor, as  well as a formidable presence in the art establishment, serving as a longtime  president of the Royal Academy, and he  forg ed an unusual path between  academic classicism and the avant-garde. The recipient of many honors during  his lifetime, he is the only British artist to have been ennobled, becoming Lord  Leighton, Baron of Stretton, in the year of his death. Nevertheless, he left almost no followers, and his impressive oeuvre was largely forgotten in the  twentieth century. Leighton’s virtuoso technique, extensive preparatory  process, and intellectual subject matter were  at odds with the generation of  painters raised on Impressionism, with its emphasis on directness of execution. 

One of his last works, however,  Flaming June, an idealized sleeping woman in a semi - transparent saffron gown, went on to enduring fame. From June 9  to September 6, Leighton’s masterpiece will hang at the Frick, on loan from the Museo de Arte de Ponce in Puerto  Rico. 

The exhibition , which is accompanied by a publication and series of public  programs, is organized by Susan Grace Galassi, Senior Curator, The Frick Collection.  Leighton’s Flaming June is made  possible by The Peter Jay Sharp Foundation and Mr.  and Mrs. Juan A. Sabater. Comments Galassi, “Despite the painting’s  renown, it has never before been exhibited in  New York. 

Alongside the imposing canvas will be displayed a small oil sketch from a  private collection that Leighton made in developing the painting’s palette. The works  have not been together since the late nineteenth century, and we couldn’t be more pleased  to offer our visitors this special viewing opportunity.  These two related works by Leighton will hang in the Oval Room, surrounded by the Frick’s four  full - length portraits by  American expatriate James  McNeill Whistler, Leighton’s contemporary . This arrangement marks the return to view of the Whistler portraits and offers a fresh chance to consider the relationship of the  two artists’  modern masterpieces. ”  


 Frederic Leighton was the son of a wealthy English physician. At the age of fifteen, he began his artistic training at the  Städelsches Kunstinstitut in Frankfurt, where his family had  recently  moved, eventually studying under Edward von  Steinle, an artist  of the Nazarene school. Having perfected his master’s precise, linear manner of drawing, he traveled to  Rome to continue his studies, joining an international community of artists. 

While there, Leighton carried out a monumental oil painting richly filled with detail,  

 Cimabue’s Celebrated Madonna is Carried in Procession through the  Streets of Florence (1853 – 55, National Gallery, London, on loan from the Royal Collection). 

His first work to be accepted for exhibition at the Royal Academy, it was bought by Queen Victoria for Buckingham Palace, making the twenty - four - year - old Leighton an instant celebrity. 

Following more than a decade in Germany and Italy, Leighton spent  three years in Paris, at a time when Ingres and Delacroix dominated the scene. He became increasingly drawn to color,  confessing to Steinle his “fanatic preference” for it over line, although he excelled in both. In 1859 he returned to his  native country, where his strong academic training, immersion in Renaissance and classical art, and firstha nd  experience with the current trends in the major art capitals of Europe set him apart from many of his English  contemporaries. 

In London, Leighton met members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, including Dante Gabriel  Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones, as  well as James McNeill Whistler; with them, he shaped the radical movement of  Aestheticism, with its emphasis on the formal aspects of art. Yet despite Leighton’s insistence on the preeminence of  composition, design, and the harmony of color over subject matter, his work frequently draws from literary sources and  is imbued with poetic associations.  


Exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1895,  Flaming June belongs to a group of works painted during  Leighton’s final  decade that feature  idealized female figures. These physically robust and sensual protagonists take on a variety of  attitudes — some pose as sibyls or muses in moments of inspiration while others are asleep or absorbed in meditative  states. Of these powerful late works,  Flaming June most immediately impacts the viewer with its eroticism and color  harmony, its appealing composition, and elusive subject matter. Wrapped in radiant, liquid drapery that reveals the form of her naked body beneath, a beautiful young woman seated in  profile fills much of a perfectly square canvas. She is lost in a dream, but her body is dynamic, seeming to rotate in on  itself in a continuous loop. Closer to a bas-relief than to a figure in the round, she is integrated into a spare classical  setting resembling a marble terrace or parapet. On the right, a bouquet of oleanders rests on a ledge and a decorative  awning borders the edge of the canvas. The finely blended brushstrokes used for the model’s flesh and  areas of the  chiffon dress are offset by thick  impastoed strokes representing the shimmering sea in the distance.  

 While Leighton’s ingenious composition immediately draws the viewer in, the complex form of the body counters the  apparent serenity of the sleeping woman. On closer inspection, a discrepancy between her upper and lower body  emerges. Both legs are bent at s harp angles, and the left knee rises steeply above the right — almost to the level of the  head. The right leg, greatly elongated, extends across her body in a powerful horizontal, diving downward at the knee in  a sharp diagonal, the ball of her foot pressing into the floor. Her bare arms, bent at the elbows, mimic the angularity of  her legs and create a frame for the lightly veiled breasts and  head , which rests on the crook of her arm. While the two  halves of the body mirror each other to a certain extent, th e upper body is characterized by physical passivity and the  flight of the conscious mind, while the lower is robustly physical, conveying a sense of restless vitality and sexuality.  Associations with earlier works of art hint at another layer of meaning. Leighton would have expected contemporary  viewers to note his references to famous works by Michelangelo, whom he revered. The configuration of the legs of Flaming June and her curled position evoke one of the sixteenth - century master’s most erotic works,  

Leda and the  Swan of 1529, as well as his marble sculpture  Night, created slightly earlier, on which Leda was based. While the model  for  Flaming June faces in the opposite direction, the allusions to these famous works bring with them connotations of  death  and blatant eroticism. Is  Flaming June  more femme fatale than sleeping beauty?  


In his essay in the exhibition’s accompanying publication,  Pablo Pérez d’Ors,  Associate Curator of European Art at the  Museo de Arte de Ponce in Puerto Rico, explores the interpretation of the painting in the context of Leighton’s life and  in relation to themes and symbols in Victorian poetry, with which the highly literate artist would have been familiar. A  medical condition, angina pector is, from which Leighton was suffering at the time of painting  Flaming June, would  have made him aware that the end of his life was approaching; in fact, Leighton was too ill to attend the opening of the  Royal Academy exhibition in May 1895, where  Flaming June and several other canvases were accorded places of  honor. The artist and longtime president of the Academy died eight months later. 

In Victorian poetry, sleep and death  are frequently equated, while oleanders often symbolize danger. Fleshy in appearance and intensely fragrant, these voluptuous flowers appeal directly to the senses, yet are highly poisonous, leading Pérez d’Ors to question whether  their presence in the painting suggests that the sleeping woman, like the flowers, might be as dangerous as  she is  alluring. Such associations, deliberately ambiguous, have undoubtedly contributed to the hold the painting has exerted  on the imaginations of generations of viewers.   


Although the meaning of Flaming June  remains elusive, Leighton’s path to its creation was deliberate and well  documented , as  discussed in Susan Galassi’s catalogue essay . The number of extant drawings for  Flaming June attests  to the importance of the painting for him and provides a view into his creative process, which was shaped by the  rigorous methods learned in the academies of Europe and practiced throughout his life. Beginning with a mental image  of a pose, sparked by a chance observation or drawn from his imagination or a work of art of the past, Leighton made a series of studies of a nude model until he arrived at the position that coincided with his initial idea.  He then made  drawings of the model draped and a compositional study.  With the  format and  composition established, his final step was to make an oil sketch to work out the painting’s palette. 

Here he established the color scheme, using a vibrant red - orange for the dress and dark neutral tones for the draperies strewn on the bench. At far left on the horizon  of a sparkling sea, he added an island (which would disappear in the finished work), as well as a scalloped - edged  awning that runs across the top of the picture. 

On the canvas itself, measuring about forty - seven by forty - seven inches, Leighton made final adjustments. The scalloped edge of the awning is replaced by a straight edge, and the orange of the gown — painted in his characteristically meticulous manner — attains an even greater radiance. The painting was generally well received at its presentation at the Royal Academy; one reviewer writing for the London  Times (May 4, 1895) referred to “that peculiar reddish orange of which Sir Frederic Leighton’s palette alone seems to  possess the secret, and this is harmonized, in that manner of his which is so familiar, against other draperies of dark  crimson and pale olive. Nothing need be said in praise of the drawing of this figure, in the difficulties of which the artist has evidently found one of his chief pleasures; for problems of drawing are child’s play  to him.” 


Leighton and Whistler — near exact contemporaries — were two of the most prominent figures in  the London art world in the late nineteenth century . They cultivated widely disparate artistic  identities at a time of increasingly emphatic division between the academic and the avant- arde in  Europe. Following traditional methods, Leighton produced meticulously painted canvases with a  high degree of finish. By contrast, Whistler embraced a distinctly modern manner, employing free  brushwork, thin veils of paint, and deliberately flattened forms. While Leighton was an  exceptionally private man whose  presidency of the increasingly outmoded Royal Academy shaped his public persona, Whistler was vocal, openly combative, and well known for his eccentricities  and anti - establishment sentiments.   

Nevertheless , in spite of their disparate methods and  reputations, the two men shared deeply rooted — and radical — artistic principles, as important  proponents of Aestheticism. Underpinned by the concept of “art for  art’s sake” — the belief in the independent value of art  apart from any didactic, moral, or political purpose — Aestheticism called for the prioritization of  formal qualities of color and line over subject matter.  Both Leighton and Whistler created  Aesthetic masterpieces in which color and line are indeed primary, yet also serve to evoke mood  or  character.  A comparison of Leighton’s  Flaming June — a painting of an anonymous figure  freed from any narrative context or specificity of time and place — and 

Whistler’s  Harmony in  Pink and Grey: Portrait of Lady Meux — a commissioned portrait of a member of high society — reveals these shared aims. Both works explore the dual impact of the beauty of the female body  and the visual power of color. The two images — one a voluptuou s woman who stares  suggestively at the viewer, the other a sleeping beauty in the presence of a poisonous flower — draw on the archetype of the femme fatale. In both, the body is submitted to abstraction,  becoming a dynamic play of angles and curves, while remaining a palpable presence. In  Flaming  June,  the model’s limbs are elongated and arranged to form a spiral within a perfectly square canvas, while the serpentine line of Lady Meux’s body is accentuated by her costume — a tight - fitting satin waistcoat and a train with a  chiffon ruffle that cascades to the ground in rhythmic folds. The paintings make their sensory impact through this  combination of pure form and the sensuality of the body.  


Flaming June’s journey to the Caribbean is no less colorful than the painting itself. Having passed through the hands of  more than one private collector in the early years of the twentieth century, the painting was forgotten for a period of  time, only to be rediscovered in 1962 behind the false  panel of a chimneypiece in a house on the outskirts of London.  Quickly passing through the hands of several individuals, it was purchased that same year by Jeremy Stephen Maas, a dealer credited with rehabilitating Victorian art, which, since the early year s of the twentieth century, had fallen out of favor. It was in Maas’s London gallery that the painting was seen by Luis A. Ferré, the forward - looking founder of the  Museo de Arte de Ponce, and the art historian René Taylor, the museum’s first director, who were in the process of  building the collection. (The museum was founded in 1959.) Ferré said that he “fell in love with  Flaming June on first  sight.” He acquired other works by nineteenth - century British artists, creating  one of  the greatest assemblage s of  Victorian art outside of England, a collection in which Leighton’s masterpiece reigns supreme.  


The exhibition is accompanied by an illustrated catalogue written by Susan Grace Galassi, Senior  Curator at The Frick Collection, and Pablo Pérez d’Ors, Associate Curator of European Art at the  Museo de Arte de Ponce in Puerto Rico.  The book  (paperback, 56 pages, 26 illustrations; $14.95,  members $13.46) will be available in the Museum Shop or can be ordered through the Frick’s Web site  ( www.frick.org ) and by phone at 212.547.6848.  


1.  Frederic Leighton Flaming June ,  ca. 1895 Oil on canvas 46 7/8 x 46 7/8 inches Museo de Arte de Ponce, The Luis A. Ferré Foundation, Inc. 

2.  Frederic Leighton Sketch for “Flaming June,”  1894 – 95 Oil on can vas 4 ½ x 4 5/16 inches Private Collection, Courtesy of Nevill Keating Pictures 

3 .  James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834 – 1903)  Harmony in Pink and Grey: Portrait of Lady Meux , 1881 – 82 Oil on canvas 76  ¼  x 36 5/8 inches The Frick Collection, New  York Photo: Michael Bodycomb 

4 .  James  Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834 – 1903) Symphony in Flesh Colour and Pink: Portrait of Mrs Frances  Leyland , 1871 – 74 Oil on canvas 77 1/8 x 40  ¼  inches The Frick Collection, New York Photo: Michael Bodycomb 

5 . James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834 – 1903)  Arrangement in Black and Gold: Comte Robert de  Montesquiou - Fezensac , 1891 – 92 O il on canvas 82 1/8 x 36 1/8 inches The Frick Collection, New York Photo: Michael Bodycomb 

6. James Abbott McNeill Whistl e\r (1834 – 1903)  Arrangement in Brown and Black: Portrait of Miss Rosa Corder, 1876 - 78 Oil on canvas (lined) 75 ¾ x 36 3/8 inches The Frick Collection, New York Photo: Michael Bodycomb    

Study for Leighton’s  Flaming June Re-emerges After 120 Years 

The only known head study for one of the most famous masterpieces of the nineteenth century has re - emerged 120 years after it was last reproduced in an art magazine in 1895. The important rediscovery of  pencil and white chalk study for Frederic, Lord Leighton’s  Flaming June, provides the missing link in the  preparatory work for the painting that has become known as ‘The Mona Lisa of the Southern Hemisphere’.  Estimated at £ 40,000 - 6 0,000, the drawing will be offered  for sale at Sotheby’s  in London this summer. 

Simon Toll, Sotheby's Victorian Art specialist, commented: "I discovered the drawing hanging behind the  door in Lady Roxburghe's bedroom at West Horsley Place and immediately realised I was looking at t he  original of the drawing that is illustrated in the Magazine of Art from 1895. This head study for the painting is  the last piece of the jigsaw in terms of the preparatory work Leighton undertook before starting on the big  oil painting. Both the nude and the drapery studies for the figure are known and accounted for, as is the oil sketch formerly in the Leverhulme collection and sold by Sotheby's in 2001. It is a thrilling find, one of the  most heart - stopping moments in my career." 

Painted in 1895,  Flaming June is now internationally famous, but this has not always been the case. Like the  drawing, the painting was lost from sight for many years. Leighton was at the height of his career when in  1895 he exhibited  Flaming June at the Royal Academy, where  it met  with an enthusiastic reception.  The  picture was loaned for some years to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, returned to its owner in 1930, sold shortly afterwards and subsequently lost for more than 30 years. It reappeared in 1963 on a market trader’s stall in Chelsea  with little fanfare , selling to a London - based Polish frame maker for £50. 

After changing  hands a few times in quick succession, one owner being a hairdresser on Albemarle Street with a side - line in  selling pictures, it was bought by art dealer Jeremy Maas, a pioneer in re-establishing the reputation of many painters of the Victorian era who illustrated the front cover of his book  Victorian Painters with a colour  image of the work, in recognition of  Flaming June’s deserving of iconic status .   

With British interest in  Victorian art at its lowest ebb since the height of the Victorian Empire, the painting was purchased by Luis  Ferre, then the  Governor of Puerto Rico. It is now a highlight of the Museo de Arte de Ponce in Ponce.

The drawings produced by Leighton illustrate and explain his methods as a painter. In the preparatory  drawings for  Flaming June he was not concerned with capturing the individual characteristics of his subject,  but with realising an ideal  – not just one of beauty, which was a natural attribute of his model, but also of  pose, expression and overall composition. Leighton kept his drawings in drawer s and  often  referred to them,  singling out individual sheets, choosing poses, revising  themes . 

There has been some debate regarding the model for  Flaming June. Traditionally she has been identified as  Dorothy Dene, Leighton’s favourite professional model  in the 1880s. In the early 1890s, however, another  beautiful woman’s face became prominent in Leighton’s work, that of Mary Lloyd, whose classical and  striking looks ensured her popularity among Leighton and his peers. Lloyd maintained her ‘respectability’ by only posing clothed. It is likely that both identifications are accurate and that Mary Lloyd posed for the head  and Dorothy Dene posed for the figure Almost ever since  Flaming June turned up on the market stall, collectors  have been lamenting their missed opportunity to buy for a fraction of its true worth one of the most famous of all Victorian paintings. The re-appearance of this study is no small recompense for that loss.