Learning more about Leighton House:
I am sure that I am not the only Londoner who wanders round spotting interesting buildings and places to visit. For years. And then never actually gets round to doing so; it’s all too easy when you live in a City with so much to do. For several years I lived just across the railway line from Holland Park in ‘not so posh’ Olympia. If you walk over the railway bridge at Olympia and make for High Street Kensington, you walk past Leighton House, a striking red brick Victorian building.
Sometimes it takes a special invitation to break a bad habit so I was delighted to be invited round to a private view of the latest exhibition at Leighton House – ‘A Victorian Obsession’. It’s a presentation of a collection of Victorian art including six works by Frederick Lord Leighton himself. We were shown around the house and exhibition by Daniel Robbins, the senior curator and given some fascinating insights into Lord Leighton as well as the paintings.
Leighton had the house built to his exact specifications by his friend, architect George Aitchison, as a showcase for his collection of art, as a place to entertain his friends and as a studio from which to work. The result, a dramatic and extravagant showcase of Victoriana and a fascinating insight into the life of one of London’s most influential Victorian artists.
The house, where Leighton lived alone, is full of memorabilia – fabulous tiles from the middle east, bronzes and mosaics. The purpose built studio dominates the first floor along with a stark bedroom. Blink and you can imagine Leighton pacing the corridors.
The Perez-Simon Collection, currently on show at Leighton House are part of the largest collection of Victorian and Edwardian art outside Britain. Art spans the period from 1860 to the start of the first World War and the unifying theme is the representation of female beauty. I particularly enjoyed seeing the sketches alongside finished art, the head of Dorothy Dene, Leighton’s muse and model for his ‘Antigone’. And, I loved seeing the multipurpose couch used by Alma Tadema in many of his works including the painting ‘An Earthly Paradise’.
Finally, the most striking work, perhaps because of the multisensory display (complete with Jo Malone rose scent), perhaps because of the macabre story behind the setting, The Roses of Heliogabalus by Alma Tadema depicts the depraved Emperor Heliogabalus smothering his adoring guests to death by covering them in rose petals.
A Victorian Obsession runs at Leighton House till 29 March 2015
Leighton House Museum
12 Holland Park Road
London W14 8LZ