Frederic Leighton’s Victorian masterpiece Flaming June, from Puerto Rico’s Museo de Arte de Ponce, makes its first visit to NYC at the Frick Collection June 9 – September 6, 2015.
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Puerto Rican-American Culture
Frick Collection1 East 70th Street in Upper East Side
About Flaming June
Frederic Leighton’s Flaming June
Flaming June (1895) is an iconic Victorian masterpiece by British artist Frederic Leighton (1830–1896).
The painting was rescued from obscurity by Luis A. Ferré (1904-2003), the Puerto Rican industrialist, former governor, and founder of Puerto Rico’s Museo de Arte de Ponce.
Ferré found the painting abandoned in a corner at an art gallery in Amsterdam. The painting failed to sell at auction because it was considered too old-fashioned. Ferré’s vision to acquire the painting when Victorian art was out of fashion makes this classic English painting part of New York Latin Culture.
Pablo Pérez d’Ors, the Associate Curator of European Art at the Ponce museum explained how exceptional Ferré’s vision was because, “the 1960s were when the Beatles were making new music and Andy Warhol was all the rage.”
We asked the Ponce museum’s Executive Director, Alejandra Peña, why the painting came to NYC.
“It had never been to NYC. It just made sense that it should come to New York where there is such a big Puerto Rican community. And it had to come to the Frick Collection because both museums are the result of incredibly visionary men. People know this painting a lot. There are many reproductions, but people don’t know it comes from the Museo de Arte de Ponce. We thought that it had to be here and we want the people of Puerto Rico to be proud of it.”
Flaming June at the Frick Collection
Leighton painted Flaming June in 1895 the year before he died. The figure references Michelangelo’s 1531 sculpture Night. Leighton was President of Britain’s Royal Academy from 1878 until his death. That was the establishment that decided what was good art and what wasn’t, so Leighton was very much part of the establishment.
The Frick Collection is exhibiting Flaming June with several works by Leighton’s contemporary, the American painter James Whistler (1834-1904). The curators make the point that while the two artists differed greatly in their personal character and style of painting, both made art purely for art’s sake.
Leighton worked inside the establishment. Whistler worked outside it. He even famously sued art critic John Ruskin for libel. By contrasting the establishment and the avant grade in this exhibition, the curators seem to be playing with our concepts of “what is art?”
Flaming June was considered a masterpiece at the time of its making, but had become unwanted junk just sixty years later.
At the time Whistler’s Impressionist leanings made his work more modern, but to a contemporary eye Flaming June is more accessible. The painting reads quickly yet has a sophisticated composition and subtlety in the suggestions within its subjects that are much more engaging than the dreary flatness of Whistler’s work which now looks old-fashioned.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and it was Ferré’s eye that saw the beauty in this painting.
Seeing Flaming June in Person
The Victorian era was the reign of Queen Victoria (1837 – 1901). When you think Victorian, you think stuffy like an unrenovated New York apartment, but there is nothing stuffy about Flaming June.
Senior curator Susan Grace Galassi introduces Frederic Leighton’s Flaming June at the Frick Collection
When you see Flaming June in real life, the composition and the sunlight reflecting on the sea in the background pushes the figure forward like an animation or a parallax-style web site. The woman looks as if she could wake up and walk right out of the painting.
The frame is a reproduction from a photo of the work in its original frame. Strangely, the frame looks like it was made precisely for the Frick Collection gallery in which the painting is displayed.
This is the Frick Collection’s first collaboration with a Caribbean institution. Leighton’s Flaming June at the Frick Collection is an exhibition that was always meant to be. The way the Frick Collection is reaching out to New York City’s Puerto Rican community is significant, but makes sense when you consider the founders of both museums.
The men behind both art institutions were visionary industrialists of their time. Henry Clay Frick was a Pennsylvanian who made his fortune in steel (U.S. Steel) and railroads (Pennsylvania Railroad). Luis A. Ferré was an MIT-educated engineer who made his fortune in iron (Puerto Rico Iron Works) and cement (Puerto Rico Cement). Both men are great Americans with a legacy in art.
Exhibition guides are available in both English and Spanish. If you are Boricua (Puerto Rican), you’ve got to go see this. This is our heritage. If you are not Boricua, you’ve got to go see this because this is our heritage.
~ New York Latin Culture
IMAGE: Frederic Leighton (1830–1896), Flaming June, ca. 1895. Oil on canvas. Museo de Arte de Ponce. The Luis A. Ferré Foundation, Inc.
The Frick Collection is a museum and research center known for its Old Master paintings, and its European sculpture and decorative arts.
The collection was put together by Pittsburgh industrialist Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919). It is housed in his Fifth Avenue residence, one of the few remaining Gilded Age mansions in New York City.