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Lord Frederic Leighton Flaming June
Like many artists of the Victorian epoch Lord Frederic Leighton pursued his love of High Italian Renaissance painting to what he felt was its aesthetic conclusion. Having studied at the prestigious Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence, Italy, Leighton developed a fascination with the more obscure figures of early Italian painting, and consequently forged a unique and idiosyncratic vision of late-nineteenth century classicalism and symbolism. Although known for his languorous and sultry rendering of female figures, Leighton was an avid and accomplished landscape painter and these works, although rarely put on public display, are testament to the scope, skill, and Academic traits of his talent. Known for his later works, such as 1895's Flaming June, Leighton was once a controversial firebrand. He drifted solely in Academic circles but managed to delve into the psychological complexity of his subjects, pitting the vitality of life against the spectre of death. Yet his most recognized painting, Flaming June, has more in common with his sculptural works in its deft balance between stillness and movement.
Whether lethargic or enticing, listless or bewitching, Leighton's incandescent canvas is rendered in a blast of orange hues that invite the view into an ethereal world. It is one of the most memorable images of the Victorian era and has superseded the fame of the artist himself. As the popularity of Flaming June grew so too did its reputation wane, becoming an object of decoration rather then being justly recognized as the meeting point between the Pre-Raphaelite, Neoclassical, and Symbolist movements. What Leighton's June is, however, is an ideal reflection of its intended audience. Intended to capture the imagination of an audience who favoured the exotic images of Orientalism, Leighton forces the body of his subject to conform to the pose the artist kept in his mind's eye. The inaccurate posture of the body is a reconfiguration of nature, and was surely intended by an artist possessing great technical skill.
Clearly taking a cue from the then-dominant notions of the French Symbolist movement, Leighton's Flaming June is an articulation of poetry on canvas, utilizing the movement's belief that painting should evoke emotion rather than draw its aesthetics from visual verisimilitude. And for Leighton, rapidly approaching the end of his career, it was the world of myths and dreamscapes that allowed this immense Academic talent to bridge the gap between the stuffiness of the Victorian era and the unrestrained imagination of the modern era.
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