Flaming June

  • "Flaming June" by Frederic Lord Leighton, on display at the Museo de Arte de Ponce, Puerto Rico.

    The Glastonbury Festival in 2009 at Worthy Farm in Somerset. Photo: Yui Mok/PA Archive/Press Association Images

    Play commences on Centre Court with the roof on following another downpour during Wimbledon 2009. Photo: Rebecca Naden/PA Archive/Press Association Images

  • Flaming June
    15.06.2011 12:20


    The disappointing June weather continues. Although it has brought a degree of relief to those regions parched through the very dry spring, notably the east and southeast of England, a continuing excess of rain has also caused difficulties for growers in, for example, western Scotland.

    The cool and unsettled conditions since the first few days of the month have prompted many to sardonically comment on the absence of a “Flaming June”.

    But Flaming June was originally nothing to do with early summer heat; rather, it was the title of an aesthetic late-Victorian painting by the artist Fredric Lord Leighton completed in 1895, a year before his death.

    Like or loathe its romanticism – and opinion is sharply divided – the languid, titian-haired, orange-clad beauty does conjure the atmosphere of a warm and lazy summer evening but on the shores of the Mediterranean rather than the beaches of Blighty. The oleander sprig indicates warmer climes but, being toxic, might also have more ominous undertones.

    Perhaps because reproductions of this painting have always been popular, the phrase “flaming June” has seeped into the national conscience, despite frequent contrary evidence. Regulars at Glastonbury and Wimbledon, for instance, can attest to the capricious, and often soaking, weather that June can provide, and there is a good reason for this.

    Springtime often sees a lull in the UK’s prevailing moisture-laden westerly winds, and the spring just gone is a fine example. However, June, especially after the first week, can see these coming back. The great climatologist Professor Hubert Lamb was the first to formally identify this season-within-a-season and called it “the return of the westerlies”.

    During this period the frequency of winds from a direction between southwest and northwest increases markedly, and this year we have also had slow moving low pressure systems looming over us from the Atlantic, all adding up to more rain and suppressed temperatures.

    These days “the return of the westerlies” is more often known as the “European Monsoon”, and means that “flaming June” is more often uttered as a curse than a forecast.

    By: Stephen Davenport