Flaming June

Flaming June, perhaps the most famous painting of the late Victorian era. Painted by Frederic Leighton, with Dorothy Dene as the model. The woman whom The Surrogate about. It was one of Leighton's last works before he died. For a long time, it was unclear who exactly was the model for the painting and, based on a 1995 analysis by an English art historian, there was a strong case for assuming that it was not she but another woman, Mary Elizabeth Lloyd, who was the model for the work. 

flaming june

Until the summer of 2015 when an heir to Lady Mary, the Countess of Roxbury, found a framed sketch hanging behind a bedroom door that had been open for decades. The sketch shows a study Leighton made of Dorothy especially for his painting 'Flaming June'. Which ended the decades-long open question. 

A drawing made in preparation for one of the most famous paintings from the Victorian era - Flaming June - which has been rediscovered after more than 100 years (Sothebys/PA)

It is this painting that prompted me to embark on a quest in April 2012 that ultimately resulted in my The Surrogate would go on to write. A novel about the life of the model Ada Alice Pullan. A girl who grew into a mediocre actress AND the favourite model of perhaps the greatest English painter of the second half of the nineteenth century. A girl who became a woman and rose from a simple existence to wealth, but would pay a high bill for it. A young woman also who would become the inspiration for the great playwright George Bernard Shaw who based his character Eliza Doolittle on her, as if Ada were a 'doolittle' rather than a hard-working substitute mother for her younger sisters and youngest brother, nude model, actress and public figure. Not to mention at the time perhaps the most beautiful woman in England but above all Frederic Leighton's muse and protégé in the last 15 years of his rich life.

The video below tells more about this extraordinary painting and was made on the occasion of an exhibition in New York in 2015. Flaming June was on display at Leighton House Museum in London from November 2016 to April 2017. I saw the painting and was enchanted all over again.