Flaming June (1895) by Lord Frederic LeightonMuseo de Arte de Ponce
Flaming June is Frederic Leighton’s masterpiece, and the best example of his personal interpretation of Greek and Latin antiquity.
Lord Frederic Leighton (1830-1896) was president of the Royal Academy and was one of the most important figures in the art world in England during the second half of the 19th century.
He unveiled Flaming June along with six other works at the Royal Academy in 1895 and it was one of the last works he made.
Leighton pictures a woman in repose, wrapped in a sheer and vibrant orange dress. Her garments envelop her and her posture transforms her into a group of intertwining curves, guiding our eye throughout the composition.
Behind her, the Mediterranean sea glimmers with the last rays of the sun.
The woman who inspired Flaming June was Dorothy Deene, a friend and protégé of Leighton's for several decades. She also modeled for many of his paintings.
For the landscape in the background, Leighton may have studied the oil sketches he had painted years before, during his trips around the Mediterranean. Previous sketches showed an island to the left of the horizon, which is still faintly visible in the finished work.
At the last minute, Leighton also changed the burnished gold awning, from a fluttering edge to more simple and serene. These pentimenti can still be seen, because the paint has become more transparent over time.
It is possible that through the beauty and eroticism of Flaming June, the artist wanted to explore the aesthetic connection between sleep and death, a concept that many Victorian artists were drawn to.
This association is suggested by the oleander, a beautiful but toxic flower that appears in various poems at the time, and that connotes death.
This mystery is one of the elements that make this painting so fascinating even to this day. However, for the generation that was marked by WWI, Flaming June became a relic of the past, embodying an aesthetic ideal and set of values that needed to be left behind.
Three decades later, Flaming June went from being considered “The most wonderful painting in existence” (Samuel Courtauld, 1876-1947), to vanishing, literally, without a trace. When it reappeared in the art market, in the decade of 1960, Victorian art was completely out of fashion.
Flaming June was rediscovered in a London gallery by Luis A. Ferré, founder of the Museo de Arte de Ponce, who fell in love with her at first sight.
Today, the painting is one of the treasures kept by the Museum and part of the cultural heritage of the Puerto Rican people.