Leighton House Museum is the former home and studio of the leading Victorian artist, Frederic, Lord Leighton (1830-1896). It is unique among the capital’s museums in combining an exceptional collection of Victorian art with the intimacy of a private home.
The house was designed by his great friend, the architect George Aitchison RA as a showcase for artistic taste and to entertain and impress the foremost artists, collectors and celebrities of the day. Not to be missed is Leighton’s painting studio on the first floor, with its large north-facing window, picture slot and screen. Leighton produced all the works of his mature career in this room, including the iconic Flaming June which is now at the Museo de Arte Ponce, Puerto Rico.
Frederic Leighton was born in Scarborough, Yorkshire in 1830 to a wealthy medical family, the second of three children. At an early age he showed an interest in drawing, and went on to study art on the continent, despite his parents’ early reservations about his choice of career. Leighton did undeniably succeed – Queen Victoria bought his first major painting in 1855, and in 1878 he reached the pinnacle of his profession, with his election as President of the Royal Academy of Arts. He also received numerous international honours and was highly regarded by his peers.
However, the man himself remains something of an enigma. His private life was closely guarded – he lived alone, travelled alone and left no diaries. Even his letters make little reference to his personal circumstances. Just before his death in 1896, Leighton was ennobled, becoming Baron Leighton of Stretton. He is the only British artist to have been awarded this honour and is buried in St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Look out for…
The exterior of Leighton House gives little clue as to the treasures that lie within. The highlight of any visit is the extraordinary Arab Hall which reflects Leighton’s fascination with the Middle East where he travelled widely. This room was built between 1877 and 1881 to display his outstanding collection of 16th and 17th-century Islamic tiles and also contains mosaic floors, a gold mosaic frieze, set beneath a gilded dome, and a calming fountain.
Did you know?…
When Leighton’s house was first completed in 1866, the view from the dining room was onto open parkland stretching to the north. While never entirely losing this semi-rural character, the outlook changed dramatically over the 30 years that Leighton lived in Holland Park Road, as a unique colony of artists’ houses grew up around him - the 'Holland Park Circle'. Following Leighton’s example in Holland Park Road, many of the plots along it were bought by up-and-coming artists who then commissioned leading architects to design houses that combined studio space with domestic quarters for them and their families. Ultimately the painters and sculptors living in ‘Paradise Row’ became the backbone of the artistic establishment enjoying great wealth and fame.
All information is drawn from or provided by the museums themselves and every effort is made to ensure it is correct. Please remember to double check opening hours with the venue concerned before making a special visit.