Dorothy Dene (1859 – 27 December 1899), born Ada Alice Pullen, was an English stage actress and artist's model for the painter Lord Leighton. Dene was considered to have a classical face and figure and a flawless complexion. Her height was above average and she had long arms, large violet eyes, and abundant golden chestnut hair.
Career as a model
Dene came from a large family of girls, a number of whom earned their living from acting on stage. She lived with her four sisters in an apartment in South Kensington, London. (This was a section of the city populated largely by artists and actors.) Leighton chose her as the one woman in Europe whose face and figure most closely tallied with his ideal. As president of the Royal Academy the artist visualized the idea of his famous painting, Cymon and Iphigenia. The colourist sought his reclining figure throughout Europe before settling on Dene, whom he noticed in a theatre in London, England, after searching for six months. Dene consented to pose and his most admired painting was completed within eight months.
Aside from Cymon and Iphigenia Dene appeared as the maiden catching the ball in Leighton's Greek Girls Playing Ball. Her long arms embellish the painter's Summer Moon. London gossip hinted that Leighton was in love with Dene before he died. There seemed to be an uncertain obstacle standing in the way of marriage between artist and model. Perhaps it was the disparity in their ages. Leighton was almost seventy years old and Dene was only twenty-eight.
Dene debuted as an actress as Marin in The School For Scandal in 1886. She appeared in New York City in a play produced by the Theater of Arts and Letters and performed in other venues there. She found little success as a performer in America and her tour was eventually abandoned. In the 1890s, she was still said to be England's most beautiful woman. She died in London in 1899, at the age of forty and is buried in Kensal Green Cemetery.
- Lima, Ohio Times Democrat, Searching For A Model, May 28, 1897, Page 6.
- New York Times, English Actress Dies, December 29, 1899, Page 7.
- North Adams, Massachusetts Evening Transcript, Most Beautiful English Woman, Tuesday, May 10, 1898.
- Ogden Utah Standard, A Beautiful Actress, Saturday, December 24, 1892, Page 7.