Connect with us

DailyArtMagazine.com – Art History Stories

Flaming June or Dorothy Dene? A Muse of Frederic Leighton

Frederick Leighton, Cymon and Iphigenia, 1884, The Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia.

Artists' Stories

Flaming June or Dorothy Dene? A Muse of Frederic Leighton

In 1879, Frederic Leighton’s biographer and neighbor (that’s handy, isn’t it?), Mrs. Barrington, noticed “a young girl with a lovely white face, dressed in deepest black, evidently a model.” This girl was actress Dorothy Dene, a muse, and the most significant woman of Leighton’s later years.

Dorothy Dene Flaming June
Flaming June or Dorothy Dene? Frederic Leighton, Flaming June, 1895, Museo de Arte de Ponce, Ponce, Puerto Rico.
Read more about this painting here.

Noticed by a neighbour

 Frederick Leighton, Bianca Dorothy Dene
Flaming June or Dorothy Dene? Frederick Leighton, Bianca, 1881, Leighton House Museum, London, UK. Wikimedia Commons.

And it was all thanks to Mrs Barrington, who first noticed Dorothy outside
one of the small studios opposite Leighton’s house. Following this, she advised Leighton to track her down and ask her to model for him. Subsequently, Dorothy’s two sisters followed her into modelling. Initially, they lived in Clapham, but when their collaboration expanded, the girls moved to a flat in Avonmore Mansions, which was just a few minutes’ walk from Leighton’s home.

A girlfriend or a muse?

Frederic Leighton, Bianca Dorothy Dene
Flaming June or Dorothy Dene? Frederic Leighton, Bianca, 1862, Royal National Trust, London, UK.

Leighton, who was the 1st Baron, felt very comfortable in her company and the press often saw them together at events and exhibition openings. The press even speculated they planned to marry since she spent a lot of time also at his house. However, Leighton denied any rumors and admitted they had never been engaged. Instead, it was a real muse-and-master relationship since Leighton was also the greatest supporter and sponsor of Dorothy’s acting talent. Their bond might have even inspired the playwright George Bernard Shaw, as some speculated, to write his famous play Pygmalion. He knew both of them, so who knows?

Acting career

Dorothy Dene
Flaming June or Dorothy Dene? Frederic Leighton, Desdemona (Othello), 1888, Leighton House Museum, London, UK.

Leighton approved of Dorothy changing her original name from Ada Alice Pullan to Dorothy Dene and he paid for all her diction and acting classes. Although her debut in London in 1885 was a blast and initially she made a considerable career with her stage presence and beauty, eventually her success faltered. Despite her expansion to New York, the critics doubted her acting skills.

Fascination with women

Dorothy Dene
Flaming June or Dorothy Dene? Frederic Leighton, Nanna (Pavonia), 1859, Royal National Trust, London, UK.

However, Dorothea was not his only model. Three years before Bianca, Leighton painted Nanna, named after his model Nanna Risi, known as “La Nanna.” She was the wife of a cobbler living in the Roman neighborhood of Trastevere and was the mistress of the German painter Anselm Feuerbach. Working as a professional model, she sat for Leighton many times after his return to Rome in October 1858. He described her as “a very handsome model.” This painting also has a second name, Pavonia which refers to an Italian “pavone,” which means “peacock,” since the painting features a peacock feather. This painting is often juxtaposed with Bianca, the black versus white, the peacock versus the dove.

At his deathbed

Dorothy Dene
Flaming June or Dorothy Dene? Frederic Leighton, Clytie, 1896, Leighton House Museum, London, UK.

Nevertheless, it was Dorothy Dene, his muse, who he called to his deathbed in 1896, sixteen years after their first meeting. He also left her a considerable amount of money, yet she didn’t enjoy it for long, as she died just three years later when her health began deteriorating after Leighton’s death. Clytie, above, was the last painting by the Lord Leighton. He began it and never finished it. Clytie was a nymph in Ovid’s Metamorphoses who Apollo rejected. Heartbroken, she spent days watching Apollo drive his chariot of the sun across the sky (Apollo was also the god of sun), until she rooted to the ground and turned into a flower. Some say that a work so imbued with emotion and despair, which stands out from the rest of his oeuvre, must have been autobiographical… Did Leighton felt like Clytie, rejected by Dorothy? We may never know.



Read more about relationships between artists and their muses:

Magda, art historian and Italianist, she writes about art because she cannot make it herself. She loves committed and political artists like Ai Weiwei or the Futurists; like Joseph Beuys she believes that art can change us and we can change the world.

Comments

More in Artists' Stories

  • 19th Century

    Fifty Shades of Dr. Pozzi

    By

    There he is, in a portrait painted by John Singer Sargent – Dr. Pozzi, a dandy, a gynecologist, and a notorious womanizer. An extremely handsome man, who, if he had lived during the twentieth century, would surely have become a celebrity. Standing in his scarlet dressing...

  • 20th century

    Impressionism Features in Bombay Progressive Artists Group

    By

    Progressive Artists Group (PAG) was an answer to the existing Indian institutional structure of exhibitions in the mid-20th century. It was a collective primarily formed by FN Souza, SH Raza, KH Ara, HA Gade, MF Hussain and Sadanand Bakre. Later, Vasudeo Gaitonde, Krishen Khanna, Tyeb Mehta,...

  • 19th Century

    Where Is Van Gogh’s Biggest Art Collection Outside of Amsterdam? In the Kröller-Müller Museum!

    By

    The Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo, Netherlands, is home to the second largest collection of works by Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890) in the world; the first being in his namesake museum in Amsterdam. It raises the question, why does the Kröller-Müller museum own so many? Listed below...

  • 19th Century

    Painting of the Week: Firs Zhuravlev, A Fashionista Wife

    By

    Firs Zhuravlev’s realistic paintings show all aspects of Russian life. And we can imagine the scene from the picture A Fashionista Wife in the house next to us both in the 19th century and now! Firs Zhuravlev, the reality master “A gifted painter – writes with...

  • Design

    Get Inspired: Jewelry in Rossetti’s Paintings

    By

    Each piece of jewelry in Rossetti’s paintings worn by his models wasn’t invented but copied from actual accessories from the artist’s collection. Pieces were carefully selected to complement the garment, color, and other aesthetic features of the painting. Rossetti kept a cabinet in his house at...

To Top

Just to let you know, DailyArt Magazine’s website uses cookies to personalise content and adverts, to provide social media features and to analyse traffic. Read cookies policy