Sir Frederic Leighton’s cantaloupe-colored canvas, “Flaming June,” c. 1895, on loan to the Frick from Puerto Rico’s Museo de Arte de Ponce, is turning up the heat in New York this summer. The dreamy Victorian-era painting of a sleeping beauty in a gauzy orange dress opens today, displayed in the museum’s Oval Room alongside a preparatory color study and four full-length portraits by Leighton’s contemporary, James McNeill Whistler.
Leighton, who excelled in both painting and sculpture, was among the most eminent artists of his day. An intellectual from a wealthy family who favored literary subjects, Leighton first won acclaim for his enormous canvas, “Cimabue’s Celebrated Madonna is Carried in Procession through the Streets of Florence,” 1853–55, a multiple-figure composition illustrating a scene from Vasari’s Renaissance book, “Lives of the Artists.” Painted when Leighton was just 24 years old and living in Italy, "Cimabue's Madonna" was exhibited at the Royal Academy and purchased by Queen Victoria for Buckingham Palace.
Leighton moved in literary circles and in Rome his friends included writers George Sand, Robert Browning and William Makepeace Thackeray. Thackeray, who saw the art history scene in progress in Leighton’s studio, warned Pre-Raphaelite John Everett Millais, then a newly elected member of the Royal Academy, on his return to London, “Millais, my boy, I have met in Rome a versatile young dog called Leighton, who will one of these days run you hard for the Presidency." And, in fact, Leighton presided over the Academy from 1878 until his death in 1896.
Painted just months before he died, “Flaming June” has been deemed a “masterpiece” by Frick Senior Curator Susan Grace Galassi. Here an idealized female figure wearing a semi-transparent orange dress is folded in on herself, arms and legs bent into a circular pose in the center of this square canvas. Sleeping on a balcony above shimmering sea, this figure, too, Galassi says, harkens back to Renaissance art: “The pose, in fact, looks back to Michelangelo’s famous tomb sculpture of ‘Night,’ made for the Medici chapel in Florence.”
With temperatures rising outside, opt for visual warmth this summer while keeping cool in the climate-controlled galleries of the Frick.
Leighton’s Flaming June, on view through September 6, 2015, The Frick Collection, 1 East 70th Street, 212-288-0700, www.frick.org
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