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Dorothy Dene (1859 – 27 December 1899), born Ada Alice Pullan, 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. Leighton chose her as the one woman in Europe whose face and figure most closely tallied with his ideal. Leighton searched Europe for a model suitable for Cymon and Iphigenia, eventually finding Dene in a theatre in London. Later information shows she sat for Leighton when he painted Bianca in 1881. The story about her being found in a theatre is contradicted in Leighton's biography as written by Mrs. Barrington right after his death. According to Mrs. Barrington, Dene appeared at the doorstep of a painters studio close to Leighton's. The studio mentioned is probably Louise Starr Canziani's studio in Kensington Green where Ada Alice was working. The stage name Dorothy Dene was decided upon in 1882 when Leighton became Ada's beneficiary. Dorothy was chosen by Ada in reference to her younger sister who died in 1877 and Dene was chosen by Frederic Leighton.
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. There have been rumours that Leighton had a romantic interest in Dene but nothing has ever been substantiated. Others say Leighton was gay.
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.
Paintings of Dorothy Dene
- 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.
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