Lord Leighton’s finest painting is unveiled

Frederic Leighton, Clytie, 1895-6 � The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea
Frederic Leighton, Clytie, 1895-6 � The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea

The final painting by Scarborough-born Victorian artist Frederic, Lord Leighton is to spend three months at Scarborough Art Gallery for the boroughs residents to see.

Clytie, which is considered to be one of Lord Leighton’s finest works, depicts a nymph who fell in love with the sun god Apollo but was rejected by him, and turned into a sunflower.

It will be on show from tomorrow to Sunday 31 March 2013 and is visiting on loan from London’s Leighton House Museum in Holland Park, the former home and studio of the artist.

Head of Collections at Scarborough Museums Trust Karen Snowden said: “We were delighted to have the chance to exhibit Clytie. Lord Leighton is one of the most significant artists to have come out of Scarborough, and it’s great that local communities now have the opportunity to see this great work in the town.

“The painting will be accompanied by five of Lord Leighton’s paper studies for it, which will offer an insight into his technique and show how he arrived at the finished work.”

Clytie was purchased in 2008 for Leighton House Museum with the assistance of a £337,500 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and contributions from The Art Fund, The Friends of Leighton House and public donations.

Frederic Leighton was born in Scarborough in 1830; the family moved to London when he was still a child.

He studied abroad, and became known as a neo-classical artist, although many link him with the pre-Raphaelite movement.

He was friends with some of the group, and much of his work, including his most famous painting, Flaming June, has pre-Raphaelite overtones.

He eventually became President of the Royal Academy.

He holds the unenviable record of having the shortest-lived peerage in history – he became Lord Leighton just one day before his death in 1896.

The subject for Clytie is taken from Book IV of Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

The nymph falls in love with Apollo the sun god but is rejected by him. She goes to a remote spot and remains there, neither eating nor drinking, drawing nourishment only from her tears.

Each day she watches her former lover drive his chariot across the sky.

Her hair becomes wild, her flesh pale except where it is still warmed by the sun’s rays. Eventually she becomes rooted to the ground, her body turns into the stem of a plant and her face becomes a sunflower which forever follows Apollo on his daily journey across the sky.

Leighton began the painting in 1895.

His model was Dorothy Dene, a girl from a large and very poor family.

During the 1880s Leighton had encouraged her to become an actress and his patronage of the beautiful Cockney girl and attempts to mould and refine her are said to have inspired George Bernard Shaw’s characters Professor Higgins and Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion.

When Leighton died in January 1896, he was laid out in his studio, with the unfinished Clytie, which was very near completion, on an easel at the head of his coffin.

Later that year it was shown at the Royal Academy as the single work chosen to commemorate Leighton’s achievements.