- Posted on 31st August 2010 by Nicola Holden
Seen from the outside, Leighton House Museum looks like a fairly ordinary, red Victorian house – built using red Suffolk bricks with Caen Stone dressings in a restrained classical style. But, as soon as you step through the front door you are transported to somewhere entirely different!
Leighton House was home to Frederic Leighton (1830-1896), one of the most famous British artists of the nineteenth century. He was President of the Royal Academy of Arts, and was ennobled in 1896, just before his death, becoming Frederic, Lord Leighton, Baron of Stretton – the only British artist to have been awarded this honour.
His home was designed by George Aitchison, and embellished to create a private palace of art. Now a museum, it was reopened in Apr 2010 after a £1.6 million refurbishment which has uncovered and restored many of the decorative schemes and features of the house. The interior of the house is a work of art in itself, with every inch decorated with classical treasures of artistic traditions from all over the world, as well as his own works and those of his contemporaries.
The first room you enter is the ‘Staircase Hall’, and then the ‘Narcissus Hall’, both spaces richly decorated with gilded ceilings and walls lined with peacock blue tiles by the ceramic artist William De Morgan.
These rooms lead to the most striking part of the house the opulent ‘Arab Hall’, a room dedicated for Leighton’s priceless collection of Middle Eastern art, including over a thousand Islamic tiles, many decorated with elaborate calligraphy, and brought back from Damascus in Syria as well as Iran, Southern Russia and Turkey. The carved wooden lattice-work windows are from Cairo. There are also Victoria elements in the stone columns and the mosaic frieze designed by Walter Crane. With its elaborately decorated domed ceiling and sunken fountain, this interior evokes a compelling vision of the Orient.
The ‘Drawing Room’ is a more sedate room, with brown patterned wallpaper to match the browns within the landscapes of four large painted panels by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot. It is, however, crowned with a garish glass Victorian chandelier. According to lighting designers Sutton Vane Associates’, who have recreated the lighting conditions of 1896, “Electric lighting was Victorian bling. Far from hiding the lamps, Leighton wanted to show off this wonderful new technology”
The ‘Dining Room’ is an intensely red room with flock wallpaper and scarlet painted floorboards draped in woven rugs. The red acts as a backdrop for Leighton’s collection of precious ceramics, mostly from the Mediterranean and Middle East.
Upstairs is the ‘Silk Room’, named for its green silk wall-covering on which he displays some of his picture collection. The domed glass ceiling here has good light qualities for showing off these works, both old and new.
Leighton’s studio was the central feature of his home, and where he would have spent most of his time. This large room is flooded with light from a great north-facing window, and displays yet more art various members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and by Leighton himself, including a copy of what is considered to be Leighton’s magnum opus, ‘Flaming June’, painted in 1895.
“Beauty is a primeval phenomenon, which itself never makes its appearance, but the reflection of which is visible in a thousand different utterances of the creative mind, and is as various as nature herself.”
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe