Saturday, 11 June 2016

Flaming June

Flaming June  Frederick Leighton  1895
Museo de Arte de Ponco, Puerta Rica

This is the famous painting by Frederick, Lord Leighton, probably of his favourite model, the actress Dorothy Dene, who also sat for George Frederic Watts and John Everett Millais.  These were among the rich and socially ambitious painters who built houses for themselves in Kensington, close to the homes of their wealthy patrons like the Ionides family, the Prinseps or Lady Holland.

Leighton's house on Holland Park Road was designed as a Palace of Art, with six eye-catching public rooms, including his large studio/gallery, the scene of soiree's and concerts as well as actual painting.  His single bedroom is small and almost spartan in contrast.

He came to fame early, when Queen Victoria purchased his painting Cimabue's Celebrated Madonna in Procession in Florence when it was shown at the Royal Academy in 1855;  his work follows this classicizing Renaissance revival style.


Cimabue's Celebrated Madonna by Frederick Leighton 1855
On loan to the National Gallery London, from the Royal Collection

 Many of his paintings are widely dispersed in public and private collections (there are several large murals by him at the V&A Museum), but the Leighton House collection now includes many important paintings, drawings and sculpture by Leighton and his circle of artist friends.


Leighton House  © Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea


The star of Leighton House itself is the Arab Hall, based on a twelfth century palace in Palermo, with its gentle fountain and pool.   It was created to display his glowing collection of early Syrian and Isnik  tiles and ceramics,  acquired on his travels, and on a visit to Damascus in 1873, with marble,  mosaics and carving. Here he was helped by the Consul,  explorer Sir Richard Burton:

 "My wife and I will keep a sharp look-out for you, and buy up as many [old tiles] as we can find which seem to answer your description.  If native inscriptions -- white or blue, for instance -- are to be had, I shall secure them, but not if imperfect.  Some clearing away of rubbish is expected at Damascus; the Englishman who superintends is a friend of mine, and I shall not neglect to get from him as much as possible (1871)."  Other friends added to his collection and  fellow artists Walter Crane, William de Morgan, Edgar Boehm and Randolph Caldecott collaborated on the finished design,
"quite the 8th wonder of the world, including a Moorish cupola palace, with a fountain, all lined with precious Persian tiles and mosaics by Walter Crane, as good almost as a Ravenna church;" ( Mrs Vernon Lee 1883).

I am sure my small daughter cannot be the only past visitor gazing up at the amazing golden frieze who has found themselves ankle deep in the pool.     Today Leighton House is one of London's less familiar public treasures, a quiet oasis just off Kensington High Street,  where you can soak up the atmosphere of artistic life in the late nineteenth century,  preferably keeping dry feet.

Quotations from Caroline Dakers' The Holland Park Circle.

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