Over time art has become more about self-expression than merely its pleasant aesthetics. However, we still tend to judge art based on its appearance alone. Frederic Leighton was a painter of the neoclassical movement. As a result, his paintings were usually based on realism and formal beauty presented in austere color palettes. Unlike his usual style, Leighton decided to paint ‘Flaming June’ with a vibrant orange-yellow scheme. When Leighton first presented this piece in 1895, it was heavily criticized by art connoisseurs on account of its bold colors. Little did he know that Flaming June was going to be one of his most notable works long after his death.
Where has the Flaming June been?
The painting was presented to the Royal Academy in 1985. Flaming June was one of Leighton’s final six paintings that were displayed in a group. Among the other five paintings, June seemed a little odd, too vibrant, and rather simple.
Even though the painting was not well received by most, a graphic artist took a keen interest in her. He bought the painting for a hefty 1000 pounds. Later he reproduced a digital copy of the image and sold it to the masses. The image soon became popular and in fact a common illustration in public places.
An art dealer bought the original painting in the meantime and loaned it to the Ashmolean Museum in 1906. In 1930 it was returned to the Leighton House Museum where it really belonged. After this, the painting was unheard of for the next 30 years.
In the 1960s the painting suddenly was discovered in a house in England. However once again no one saw any real value in the painting. She was sold to an art shop for a miserly 60 pounds.
Where is Flaming June right now?
After being bought by several art dealers the painting was finally in the hands of Jeremy Maas. Maas presented the painting to several museums but no one seemed interested. In 1963, Luis Ferre, the owner of Museo de Arte de Ponce bought Flaming June for 2000 pounds. Today the painting is the highlight of the British artwork collection in the museum.
Leighton was deeply inspired by the Italian artist Michelangelo’s work. Michelangelo is best known for his realistic and anatomically perfect sculptures. His sculpture titled “Night” is thought to be the direct inspiration for Leighton’s Flaming June.
In the sculpture we see a woman resting her head on her hand, with her knee jutting out at a sharp angle. This pose has a strong resemblance to the nymph in Flaming June. The only difference between the two subjects is that June’s position is far more dramatized.
What makes the painting unique is that the inspiration comes from the high renaissance period but has been integrated into a refreshing color palette. It may due to its vibrant palette that it resembles contemporary art and is famous among today’s audience.
Before coming to the final position of the model, Leighton drew several rough lithographs. He positioned a nude model in several sleeping positions on a chair till the final picture of June finally caught his eye. There may be several reasons to do make rough sketches, such as to get the anatomy right and to see which position suits the tone of his imagination. In his series of lithographs, it may be observed that he kept making small changes to make the pose more dramatic and expressive.
The circular figure of June is rightly presented in a square frame, giving it appealing symmetry. After making his final lithograph Leighton painted on it to see how the colors would look together. The final painting is put on display alongside its miniature lithograph in Museo de Arte de Ponce.
Leighton played around with the idea of a sleeping woman for years before Flaming June was created. A reminiscent of the same pose and similar clothes and theme is seen in his 1894 painting Summer Slumber. It seems as if he was waiting for the model that would fit his ideals for formal beauty perfectly. The perfect model turned out to be a young woman named Dorothy Dene. She featured in several paintings by Leighton apart from Flaming June.
The Subject of the Painting
The subject of the painting is a beautiful woman, often likened to a nymph sleeping on a chair. The woman is in a state of complete repose as she curls up resting in the middle of the canvas.
The most striking feature is indubitably her vibrant orange dress. The thin, translucent dress gently wraps her body while softly revealing her beautiful contours. All the colors in the painting are in the same family as the nymph’s dress, making it almost monochromatic apart from a few exceptions such as the green and blue in the backdrop.
Another notable feature is the woman’s luscious hair. Her thick, long, and brown hair make a nest for her to sleep. The hair and her curled-up body make concentric circles in the middle of a square canvas that gives rise to very pleasing symmetry.
The vibrant blue sea at the back sparkles brightly as it reflects the sun’s rays. This small detail helps us to perceive the warmth of summer afternoon in the middle of June.
Other small details such as the red oleander on the top right corner and the several horizontal lines in the background have specific meanings and purposes.
What is the Meaning behind Flaming June?
The painting may be disintegrated into simpler shapes each giving rise to the general atmosphere on the canvas. The first shape is a circle formed by the woman in the center. A circle here enhances a sense of safety in which the nymph sleeps peacefully. Her dress has a series of curves and lines that guide the viewer’s eyes along her body. Behind the woman at the top of the painting are a series of horizontal lines that arise from the decorative awning, water line, and the wall. These lines emphasize the calmness of the painting.
Leighton had made several trips to the Mediterranean during his lifetime. As a result, he portrayed the Mediterranean Sea in many of his paintings and it is believed that he uses the same sea as the backdrop for Flaming June.
Art theorists suggest that the flowering oleander on the top right corner of the frame is a symbol of death. This is because the oleander is a poisonous plant. The woman sleeping beside the oleander may be the artist’s way of drawing a connection between life and death. It is believed that Leighton wanted to indirectly depict the fragile line between sleep and death. This visual similarity between life and death was a popular concept in the Victorian Era.
The painting consists of distinct symbols that signify the elements of earth, fire, air and water. The woman’s orange flowy dress flowing down the middle of the frame stands for fire. Her brown-chestnut hair resembles the earth and the plant in the corner signifies life. Lastly, the elements of water and air are depicted through the Mediterranean Sea and the sky in the background.
The transparent dress reveals the woman’s body in a way that evokes a sense of eroticism which is balanced by the innocence and vulnerability of her sleep. Eroticism is also evoked by the general heat of the scene depicting a summer afternoon. Moreover, the fiery color of June’s gown along with the presence of elemental symbols emphasize sensuality.
The painting overall has an otherwordly glow which in a way allows us to step into the subject’s dream. Flaming June fulfills both the aesthetic and symbolic interests of the artist and the audience. Leighton’s skill in balancing the elements of his painting in a way to create a state of complete serenity sets him apart from most artists of his time.
Frequently Asked Questions about Flaming June
Is Flaming June a Victorian art?
The Flaming June is a pioneering example of Pre-Raphaelite art from the Victorian era. Therefore Flaming June is part of victorian art.
Why is June called Flaming June?
The painting is called Flaming June for several reasons. June probably refers to the month of June and also hints toward summer. June is also a very feminine name and has been related to the woman in the painting. The term flaming draws our attention toward the heat of summer and also toward the erotic elements of the scene. Flaming could also refer to the woman’s orange dress that may be likened to fire or flames.
Why is Flaming June Famous?
The Flaming June by Frederic Leighton is famous for many reasons. First, the painting was one of the last six paintings that Leighton presented to the Royal academy. Second, the painting was digitally reproduced and popularized immensely in the 19th century. Third, the painting became a part of a major controversy when it disappeared completely for over three decades in the 20th century. Fourth, the painting was bought by the Museo de Arte de Ponce for a whopping 2000 pounds in 1962. Since then the painting is considered to be the best example of British art outside of Britain. Lastly, the painting has a great aesthetic and philosophical value that is greatly appreciated by art critics.
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