Sunday, 26 March 2017

'Flaming June' at Leighton House Museum

I finally made it to the 'Flaming June: The Making of an Icon' exhibition at Leighton House Museum yesterday. Leighton House is the home and studio of Sir Frederick Leighton in Kensington and it puts on exhibitions of Victorian paintings including those of it's former owner. 'Flaming June' was painted in his last years to be exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1895 along with four other paintings. By that time, Leighton had been President of the Royal Academy for a decade so it was an important exhibition for him.

The exhibition is made up of lots of sketches and preparatory drawings for these works and the highlight is the  room presenting the finished paintings in the same order as he displayed them in his studio (captured in the photo below) when he was visited by the Prince of Wales to see them before the public display.

Nice as it is to see the sketches the main event is clearly the five paintings Leighton did for the Academy, still in their original frames.

The painting that really caught my eye was ' 'Twixt Hope and Fear', described in the guide as being possibly 'a Roman empress or patrician'. My eyes were drawn to the sheep's skin, complete with head and legs. over the back of the chair and under her arm. This suggests to me someone a bit more rugged than a Roman and I decided she was a barbarian princess or queen and named her Boudicca.

She is proud and fierce but thoughtful, maybe the night before her critical battle with those Romans that resulted in her defeat. That strong arm and unwavering gaze, the rough robes and sheepskin, the simple band tied around her hair to keep it out of her eyes all shout warrior queen to me, used to being worshipped by her people. It's a strong composition.

The highlight of the exhibition is, of course, 'Flaming June', the languid lady dozing as the sun sinks below the Mediterranean on a lazy evening. Her bright orange, gauzy, see-through dress and her elongated thighs are main thing you notice, her bowed head centred in the sunset on the water in the distance, the flowers growing over the balcony to the right and the calm of a pretty lady sleeping all give the painting a sense of peace and relaxation. The careful folds and creases in her dress and seeing her toes through her dress are a big show-off 'look what I can do' challenge to other painters and rivals.

It's a lovely little exhibition and well worth seeing if you can make it before it closes on 2 April. The next exhibition is of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema over the summer and that will, I'm sure, be well worth a visit or two.

No comments: