fbpx
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

  • Frederic Church, Heart of the Andes cover Frederic Church, Heart of the Andes cover

    19th Century

    Painting of the Week: Heart of the Andes by Frederic Edwin Church

    By

    Heart of the Andes is one truly impressive landscape painting. Frederic Edwin Church‘s crowning achievement depicts scenery he saw during his two visits to South America. However, one of the painting’s most important features doesn’t appear on the canvas at all – the pioneering scientist who...

  • 19th Century

    Divine Beauty of Landscapes: California on Canvas

    By

    The beautiful state of California is home to some of the most geographically diverse topography. This makes for the most breath-taking vistas. It has immaculate beaches of the coastline and pristine lakes. Sprawling deserts, and mountain ranges lie scattered throughout the state. There is a place for...

  • 20th century

    Explore the Unknown World of Klimt’s Landscapes

    By

    When you think of Gustav Klimt, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? If you’re like most people, you probably thought of his portraits and other people paintings. You might not realize that he also painted many other things. In fact, he made quite a...

  • 19th Century

    Escape to the Forest: The Birth of Barbizon School

    By

    During the 19th century, the most promising artists trained at the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture in Paris. The academy taught its pupils the works of the Old Masters. Artists in the making were encouraged to adopt classical ideals in their paintings. However, a group...

  • William H. Mumler, Mary Todd Lincoln with the "ghost" of her husband, 1869, USA. Wikipedia William H. Mumler, Mary Todd Lincoln with the "ghost" of her husband, 1869, USA. Wikipedia

    dailyart

    Secrets of Ghost Photography in the 19th Century

    By

    Spirit photography, photographs that allegedly show ghosts, have always captured the eye. They are peculiar, bizarre, but above all else horrifying. Their appearance is connected to the beginnings of photography and Spiritism of the 19th century. Spiritism was very popular in the 19th century. It was...

To Top