Study For Lord Leighton’s Flaming June Re-emerges After 120 Years

Lord Leighton

A study of the head for a well known nineteenth century painting has re-emerged 120 years after it was last reproduced in an art magazine in 1895. The important rediscovery of pencil and white chalk study for Frederic, Lord Leighton’s Flaming June, provides the missing link in the preparatory work for the painting that has become known as ‘The Mona Lisa of the Southern Hemisphere’. Estimated at £40,000-60,000, the drawing will be offered for sale at Sotheby’s in London this summer.

The study comes to auction from the Historic Collection of Mary, Duchess of Roxburghe and was found hanging discreetly on a bedroom wall at West Horsley Place, her quintessentially English red-brick sixteenth-century mansion and 400-acre Surrey estate.  Contents from this extraordinary home – frozen in time – will be offered at Sotheby’s in London on 27th and 28th May and the drawing will be offered in a separate sale of Victorian, Pre-Raphaelite and British Impressionist Art in London on15th July 2015. 

Pictures and objects brought together by the Crewe family, one of Britain’s greatest aristocratic families, were consolidated at West Horsley Place from their numerous great houses across Britain and it is likely that the Leighton drawing was purchased from the artist’s studio after his death. It represents one of the most important surviving drawings relating to this famous painting.

Simon Toll, Sotheby’s Victorian Art specialist, commented: “I discovered the drawing hanging behind the door in Lady Roxburghe’s bedroom at West Horsley Place and immediately realised I was looking at the original of the drawing that is illustrated in the Magazine of Art from 1895. This head study for the painting is the last piece of the jigsaw in terms of the preparatory work Leighton undertook before starting on the big oil painting. Both the nude and the drapery studies for the figure are known and accounted for, as is the oil sketch formerly in the Leverhulme collection and sold by Sotheby’s in 2001. It is a thrilling find, one of the most heart-stopping moments in my career.”

Painted in 1895, Flaming June is now internationally famous, but this has not always been the case. Like the drawing, the painting was lost from sight for many years. Leighton was at the height of his career when in 1895 he exhibited Flaming June at the Royal Academy, where it met with an enthusiastic reception. The picture was loaned for some years to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, returned to its owner in 1930, sold shortly afterwards and subsequently lost for more than 30 years. It reappeared in 1963 on a market trader’s stall in Chelsea with little fanfare, selling to a London-based Polish frame maker for £50. After changing hands a few times in quick succession, one owner being a hairdresser on Albemarle Street with a side-line in selling pictures, it was bought by art dealer Jeremy Maas, a pioneer in re-establishing the reputation of many painters of the Victorian era who illustrated the front cover of his book Victorian Painters with a colour image of the work, in recognition of Flaming June’s deserving of iconic status. With British interest in Victorian art at its lowest ebb since the height of the Victorian Empire, the painting was purchased by Luis Ferre, then the Governor of Puerto Rico and now resides in the Museo de Arte de Ponce in Puerto Rico.