Flaming June

My parents flew back to New Zealand last night. My dad in his early nineties and my mum in her late eighties, supported by a walking stick apiece, yet looking many years younger than their passports tell.

They had lived with us here in our home in Southampton, England for four months, arriving some five months after we did. They came, they saw, they went, all too quickly, leaving us waking this morning to a very quiet house giving pause to reflect upon their visit, as well as the process of getting ready for them to stay.

We arrived here in the winter’s month of February to our freezing cold terraced villa that had not been occupied for many months and to a boiler in need of repair. Not only that, but we had no furniture, fridge or washing machine, internet or television, nor even jobs.

But what we did have was a house, a camper van and a small car. A quick visit to IKEA and we were tooled enough to make food and serve out, we had mattresses on the floor, duvets without covers to keep us warm and a fast dwindling bank balance.

Very quickly our home, though minimalist, was furnished with a mixture of brand new items such as the fridge-freezer crockery and cutlery, second-hand items such as the regency dining suit complete with two carver chairs, kitchen table and washing machine and freebies such as the sofa, outdoor table setting and a large print of Flaming June in gloriously vivid autumnal hues; I just loved it when I saw it on Gumtree and moved fast to make it mine.

Flaming June is a painting by Sir Frederic Leighton. Painted with oils on a 47-by-47-inch (1,200 mm × 1,200 mm) square canvas and said to be Leighton’s magnum opus! Very impressive! It clearly shows his classicist brush and is thought to allude to a sleeping water nymph (naiad) often sculptured by the Greeks.

It was believed for years to be a portrayal of the artist’s favourite model, Dorothy Dene, to whom he left £10,000 in his will when he died 120 years ago. But on the eve of the Royal Academy’s London Retrospective of Lord Leighton’s Work, an academic suggested that the model was not Dene, a poor child from the East End of London who he helped up in life, but Mary Lloyd, the daughter of a prosperous country squire. To announce this at the time of the paintings completion would have been her ruin; however, there is not enough proof to agree with, or dispel such proposals.

And really, although back stories help bring more meaning to a painting, for me whether the sitter was Dorothy or Mary, matters little. This feast for the eyes is June and when I stand in front of her, in my smiling eyes you will see her flames.

The poisonous oleander peeping over the railings in the fading light, denotes the delicate link between sleep and death putting a bigger question into mind of the viewer than who the sitter was?!!

The original can be viewed at Museo de Arte de Ponce, Puerto.

Last night in the fading October light, as we drove to Heathrow, we made comment on the autumn colours around us and how quickly we had all noticed the leaves change from their summer green over the last two weeks. And, as the van moved-ever eastward, the British twilight at our backs, bid my Scottish-born mother good-bye, leaving us to continue navigating the thickening traffic to the airport in the dark.

Flaming June was taken down off the wall this afternoon. The front room for the first time since we have lived here, is being transformed back to its proper function – a reception room…that is until my parents’ arrival again in June 2017, when she will be hung, in all her romance, over their bed once more.

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As I finish this account, I can hear the horn of another cruise ship leaving Southampton for warmer seas, as my parents are even now doing in business class with Cathay Pacific; and it leaves me strangely sad.

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