Victorian era’s sexy masterpiece scorned, lost for decades, now revered
Discovered in 1962 in British house hidden behind wood paneling, ravishing beauty was acquired by Luis A, Ferre, founder of Puerto Rico’s art museum
Enthroned in original frame design, hung beside Frick’s Whistlers for telling comparison: Incomparable Splendor!
The exquisite charms of Frederic Leighton’s final masterpiece of 1895 seem undeniable today, but after being hung at the Royal Academy of Art in London and celebrated for fifteen years as the height of Victorian classicism, Flaming June was toppled from its summit of admiration by the revolutionaries of modern art, and quite literally vanished from view for decades.
Only in 1962 did it resurface. Workmen at a British house removed wood paneling to reveal the masterpiece hidden away, not even in its original gilded frame. But a year later it was acquired by Luis A. Ferre, the clear eyed founder of the Ponce Museum of Art in Puerto Rico, where it is now the flagship canvas. Now it will be at the Frick for three months.
Report has it that the young Andrew Lloyd Weber would have bought it for a pittance, but his grandmother refused to lend him the money for such a ‘mistake’, and the failure remains one of his greatest regrets.
Why the long phase of ignominy? Viewed through the distorting glass of changing critical fashion, Flaming June was written off as sentimental trash, a shallow monument to the aesthetic vulgarity of an age which loaded art with artificial moral and historical signals, much as the Nazis and the Stalinists later harnessed art in the service of political ideals.
But the story of its misguided critical death and rebirth adds to the excitement that many feel now at the chance to see this sublime work in its full glory, enshrined in a regal but provocative presentation that perhaps only the Frick could manage to pull off.For this time, on either side of the huge gilt frame which once more ennobles Flaming June, spaced a respectful distance away along the wood paneled wall (an irony, that wood paneling!) are two magnificent tall standing portraits of women by Whistler. Both are owned by the Frick: Harmony in Pink and Grey: Portrait of Lady Meux 1881-82 (Oil on canvas, 761/4 x 36 5/8 in) and Symphony in Flesh Color and Pink: Portrait of Mrs Frances Leyland 1871-74 (Oil on canvas, 77 1/8 and 40 1/4 in).
In some ways the relatively drab coloring of the Whistlers and their static poses couldn’t be more different from the spiralling colorburst of Flaming June, but the Frick senior curator Susan Grace Galassi, and the Associate Curator of the Musee de Arte de Ponce Pablo Perez d’Ors, who cooperated on the unprecedented exhibition and wrote comprehensive essays in its small but thorough catalogue, use the contrast to point up the achievements of both contemporaries.
There are two more current shows at the Frick: landscapes for the summer, and porcelain until next spring.
Depicting quotidian life in the country, urban scenes, and imagined views of timeless Arcadian realms, this selection of rarely exhibited landscape drawings from the Frick’s small but superb collection of works on paper reveals thematic continuities across four centuries. The presentation features the Frick’s newly acquired View of Dieppe Harbor of 1873 by Antoine Vollon, the generous gift of Dr. Carol Forman Tabler. The watercolor finds an ideal context among drawings by Vollon’s contemporaries and forebears — including Claude, Corot, and Whistler — with whom he shared a drive to investigate the technical possibilities for representing on paper the textures and intangible atmospheric effects of the three-dimensional world.
The presentation is organized by Joanna Sheers Seidenstein, Research Assistant at The Frick Collection, and will be on view in the Frick’s Cabinet gallery.
Between 1916 and 1918, Henry Clay Frick purchased several important pieces of porcelain to decorate his New York mansion. Made at Sèvres, the preeminent eighteenth-century French porcelain manufactory, the objects — including vases, potpourris, jugs and basins, plates, a tea service, and a table — were displayed throughout Frick’s residence. From Sèvres to Fifth Avenue brings them together in the Portico Gallery, along with a selection of pieces acquired at a later date, some of which are rarely on view. The exhibition presents a new perspective on the collection by exploring the role Sèvres porcelain played in eighteenth-century France, as well as during the American Gilded Age.
The exhibition is organized by Charlotte Vignon, Curator of Decorative Arts.