Leighton House, built to designs by George Aitchison and completed in 1866, was constructed as a private home and studio for the renowned Victorian artist Frederick Lord Leighton (1830-1896). Leighton was passionate about architecture and was heavily involved in the building's design, construction and interior decoration. In the words of his sisters, in a letter to the Times (26th January 1899):
'He built his house as it now stands for his own artistic delight. Every stone of it has been the object of his loving care. It was a joy to him until the moment when he lay down to die.'
The interior decoration of the house is astounding, especially the opulent Arab Hall, based on a reception room at the twelfth century palace of La Zisa at Palermo in Sicily. This impressive centrepiece of the house, with its gold mosaic frieze designed by Walter Crane and fantastic domed ceiling, was added to the original building in 1877-81 to house Leighton's substantial collection of Islamic tiles, most of which came from Damascus. The task of deciding how best to arrange the vast number of tiles, repairing damaged ones and making replicas where necessary, was given to William de Morgan, the most important ceramic artist of the Arts & Crafts Movement. He was also responsible for decorating the walls of the wonderful Narcissus Hall, which connects the Arab Hall extension to the original house.
The house, the only artist's studio-home open to the public in the UK, offers visitors a wonderful opportunity to experience the surroundings of an eminent Victorian artist, including Leighton's grand first-floor painting studio (and you can even see his paint box). And, as part of the Museums at Night annual after hours celebration, the house will be open to the public during the evening of Friday 18th May this year, when visitors will be invited to experience A Victorian Delight (pre-registration is required, there's a link at the foot of this post).
Also, from Thursday 26th April to Sunday 23rd September, an exhibition will be taking place at Leighton House entitled Victorian Visions, Pre-Raphaelite and Nineteenth-Century Art from the John Schaeffer Collection. Key works from one of the finest private collections of British 19th-century and Pre-Raphaelite art will be on display in the UK for the first time. There will be works by Leighton (the colour sketch for his celebrated painting Flaming June), John William Waterhouse (see image below), William Holman Hunt, George Frederic Watts, Frank Dicksee (see image above) and Solomon J. Solomon. It's an unmissable opportunity for anyone interested in 19th century British art.
Details: Leighton House Museum, 12 Holland Park Road, London W14 8LZ, tel 020 7602 3316. Open daily 10am to 5.30pm, closed Tuesdays. For more information visit the official web site: www.leightonhouse.co.uk/.
Victorian Visions: Pre-Raphaelite and Nineteenth-Century Art from the John Schaeffer Collection. Thursday 26th April to Sunday 23rd September 2012.
A Victorian Delight, free Museums at Night event at Leighton House Museum. Friday, 18th May 2012. Doors open at 6.30pm. To register, visit: www.leightonhouse.eventbrite.co.uk/.
* All images reproduced by kind permission of The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Museums Service.