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Frederic, Lord Leighton, P.R.A., R.W.S, Study for Flaming June. Pencil and white chalk, 22 by 20cm., 8¾ by 8in. Estimate £40,000 — 60,000. Sold for £167,000 ($261,422). Photo: Sotheby's.

LONDON.- Today at Sotheby’s in London, the only known head study for one of the most famous masterpieces of the nineteenth century, the pencil and white chalk study for Frederic, Lord Leighton’s Flaming June, sold to an American private collector for £167,000, an auction record for a work on paper by the artist* and four times over the pre-sale low estimate (£40,000-60,000). 

Various museums possess studies for the draperies in Flaming June, for the nude figure and for the overall composition, but this unique head study was only known from an illustration in the Magazine of Art of 1895. It was rediscovered hanging discreetly on a bedroom wall at West Horsley Place, the 400-acre Surrey estate that was home to the late Mary, Duchess of Roxburghe, by Sotheby’s Victorian Art specialist Simon Toll. The head study represents one of the most important surviving drawings relating to this famous painting and provides the missing link in the preparatory work for what has become known as ‘The Mona Lisa of the Southern Hemisphere’. 

The provenance of the drawing is impeccable, it having passed through aristocratic lineage from its first owner Lord Houghton (the grandfather of Mary, Duchess of Roxburghe), who most likely purchased the study from Leighton’s studio after the artist’s death. 

Commenting on his discovery, Simon Toll, Sotheby's Victorian Art specialist, said: "I discovered the drawing hanging behind the door in Lady Roxburghe's bedroom at West Horsley Place and immediately realised I was looking at the original of the drawing that is illustrated in the Magazine of Art from 1895. This head study for the painting is the last piece of the jigsaw in terms of the preparatory work Leighton undertook before starting on the big oil painting. It was a thrilling find, one of the most heart-stopping moments in my career." 

Painted in 1895, Flaming June is now internationally famous, but this has not always been the case. Like the drawing, the painting was lost from sight for many years. Leighton was at the height of his career when in 1895 he exhibited Flaming June at the Royal Academy, where it met with an enthusiastic reception. The picture was loaned for some years to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, returned to its owner in 1930, sold shortly afterwards and subsequently lost for more than 30 years. It reappeared in 1963 on a market trader’s stall in Chelsea with little fanfare, selling to a London-based Polish frame maker for £50. After changing hands a few times in quick succession, one owner being a hairdresser on Albemarle Street with a side-line in selling pictures, it was bought by art dealer Jeremy Maas, a pioneer in re-establishing the reputation of many painters of the Victorian era who illustrated the front cover of his book Victorian Painters with a colour image of the work, in recognition of Flaming June’s deserving of iconic status. With British interest in Victorian art at its lowest ebb since the height of the Victorian Empire, the painting was purchased by Luis Ferre, then the Governor of Puerto Rico and now resides in the Museo de Arte de Ponce in Puerto Rico. The painting is currently on view to the public in New York at The Frick Collection. 

The sale also featured Leighton’s oil painting Catarina, another re-discovery, which sold to an UK private collector for £233,000 against a pre-sale estimate of £100,000-150,000. This delightful depiction of a young Italian girl with jasmine flowers in her hair is included in most of the major studies of Leighton’s work but does not seem to have been reproduced. Catarina was painted in 1879, the year following the artist’s election as President of the Royal Academy. Purchased privately in the UK in the 1930s, it has remained in the same family ever since.

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Frederic, Lord Leighton, P.R.A., R.W.S, Catarina. Oil on canvas, in original frame, 53 by 41cm., 21 by 16in. Estimate £100,000 — 150,000. Sold for £233,000 ($364,738). Photo: Sotheby's.