An iconic example of Victorian art has returned to the place in which it was painted as part of a fascinating exhibition at London’s Leighton House Museum.
Flaming June: The Making of an Icon explores how Frederic, Lord Leighton, created what was perhaps his most famous work.
Story behind an icon
The painting depicts a sensual, sun-drenched, sleeping female figure wrapped in orange draperies and set against a Mediterranean backdrop. The exhibition explores the story of this picture; covering its creation in Leighton’s studio, its first critical reception at the Royal Academy, its ‘disappearance’ in the middle of the 20th century and its acquisition by Luis Ferré, governor of Puerto Rico, for the Museo de Arte de Ponce in 1963.
It also explores how Leighton’s style of romantic art, hugely popular in the mid-19th century, was already beginning to go out of fashion by the 1890s and would further decline in favour in the 20th.
Frederic, Lord Leighton (1830-96), was one of the pre-eminent artists of his day. He was president of the Royal Academy from 1878 to 1896 and achieved fame and influence as a figurehead for art in late Victorian society.
The exhibition places Flaming June beside the other works submitted by Leighton to the Academy in 1895, all of which were memorably captured and photographed on easels in Leighton’s studio immediately prior to being sent to the display.
Leighton was already unwell with the heart condition that would kill him at the time he made this last Academy submission and the assembled pictures represent his last statement as an artist.
Daniel Robbins, senior curator at Leighton House Museum says: ‘I am delighted that over 125 years on we can reunite these five paintings created by Leighton in the home and studio he cherished. This exhibition will be a chance for visitors to look more closely into this final body of work with Flaming June as its centrepiece and consider afresh Leighton’s achievements as an artist.
Private palace of art
Leighton House was built to the artist’s specifications to combine studio space, domestic accommodation and areas for entertaining.
Originally constructed on a modest basis, it grew to become a ‘private palace of art’ visited by many of the great artists of the day and regarded as one of the architectural sights of London.
The Arab Hall, designed to display Leighton’s priceless collection of over 1,000 Islamic tiles, is the centrepiece of the house. The tiles, mostly brought back from Damascus, combined with the gold mosaic interior, marble columns and golden dome.
The opulence continues through the richly decorated interiors, adorned with elaborate mosaic floors and walls lined with peacock blue tiles by the ceramic artist William De Morgan.
Flaming June: The Making of an Icon runs until 2 April 2017. For more about the exhibition, click here.