March 2012

 

Better Leighton than Never! (part 2)

MFTMarch12-1    Well, having had a nice rave about Frederic, Lord Leighton’s art last month, I’ll now talk about what I originally intended to cover. The house and studio in Holland Park (near Kensington) where he lived for most of his life from 1866 until his death laden with honors and admiration 30 years later.

The house is very unusual for a Victorian design, isn’t it? A bit like a Tuscan villa and a mosque got together one drunken night and had a puppy. Actually given that Leighton spent his youth in Italy then traveled widely in the Middle East, that idea isn’t completely away with the fairies.

MFTMarch12-4Nothing however really hints at the mind-boggling glories within. The street outside is pure London suburbia. Inside the house is a gorgeous Oriental fantasy of blue and white and gold. The Arab Hall with its fountains, marble columns, filigree grille work and dazzling ceramics was added in 1877 and decorated with the thousands of tiles Leighton had collected in his travels. There’s even a sculpted peacock sitting on the elaborate balustrade at the bottom of the staircase. It’s like walking into one of Annie West’s sheikh books!

It’s such a gloriously over-the-top romantic space – and I don’t know if this is still the case, although I suspect it might be – when I visited in April 2007, it was almost completely empty. Hardly anyone else I know has visited this beautiful house. It’s one of London’s hidden treasures.

MFTMarch12-3Apparently the house is even more spectacular now as it’s just had millions of pounds spent on it in a major refurbishment completed in 2010. Hard to imagine it being even MORE splendid! The gold nearly burned out my eyeballs when I visited pre-restoration.

MFTMarch12-2Upstairs it’s like another world. This was the artist’s studio and it still contains a lot of his paintings. What struck me, though, was how Spartan Leighton’s living arrangements were. His bedroom is as he left it (well, I’m sure they’ve swept it since!). One measly single bed and no real creature comforts. Such a contrast to the ostentatious, luxurious display in the public parts of the house below. Leighton lived alone apart from his servants and never married (it’s possible he was gay and there are rumors that he fathered a child with one of his models). You wonder if he might have been lonely in his magnificent custom-designed house, although when you read about his life, it’s obvious he was a man who relished many close friendships.

MFTMarch12-5Leighton House is terrifically easy to get to. You just take the underground to Kensington and walk from there (it’s probably about 15 minutes). If you’re looking for something a little bit different and exotically beautiful when you visit London, I highly recommend checking it out.

Here’s a link to the official website.