Sunday, March 5, 2017

Go to the Leighton House if you can

Today, for no particular reason other than my affection for the work of Lord Frederic Leighton, I visited the Leighton House Museum.  I had done no research and had no expectations of anything more than a tour of the house.

Oh, what a lucky man I am!  Upon arrival, I learned that the museum was hosting a show, which ends April 2, called "Flaming June: The Making of an Icon."  The title of the show betrays its main focus, the painting Flaming June, which is arguably Leighton's most famous work.  What the title does not make clear is that as part of assembling this show, the museum not only gathered tons of his sketches for this piece, it also assembled for the first time since 1895 all five extant paintings that Leighton planned to submit for the 1895 summer exposition!  (I say "planned" because at the last moment he pulled one painting and substituted another, and no one knows where the substitution currently is.)

This means that the last time these five paintings hung together was in his studio on his April open house day prior to the exposition!  I lucked into the first chance to see these pieces together since 1895.  At the exposition, they were scattered in different areas.  Only in his studio in 1895 and now in the house museum have they hung together.

I cannot show you photos of the paintings, because the house rules forbid photography, but I can list them for you here in the order in which they were hanging, from left to right:

  • Candida
  • Lachrymae
  • The Maid with the Golden Hair
  • 'Twixt Hope and Fear
  • Flaming June
All five are technically brilliant, examples of the painter at the height of his talents--though working with severe angina the entire time he was painting them.  Candida and 'Twixt Hope and Fear did not, however, touch my heart the way the other three did.  Lachrymae broke my heart with its sorrow.  I fell instantly in love with the utter and complete focus of the reading Maid with the Golden Hair.  As for Flaming June, well, it deserves all of its accolades, a stunningly romantic vision of a woman exhausted and embracing slumber.  

In addition to the paintings themselves and the many sketches for aspects of Flaming June, the museum also managed to snag the unfinished Clytie, which is astonishing in person, and Whispers, which also deserves its fame.  

The house itself is another treat, a sumptuous, art-filled treasure trove.  

I could go on and on, but I am quite drained by today's experiences, of which this was the primary and most moving.  I was quite undone by the emotions Leighton's paintings aroused in me.

If you live in London or will be visiting before this exhibition closes, I cannot recommend it too highly.  I genuinely feel privileged to have seen it.


Mark P said...

I take it you've done the National Gallery on previous visits to London.

Mark said...

Actually, I spent time in it during this trip and have yet to write that up. Perhaps tonight!


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