Sunday, October 23, 2011

Leighton House

In the 70s I lived for some years in the Holland Park area of Kensington. Nineteenth century Leighton House was a leisurely and scenic walk away, through beautiful Holland Park. It was (and still is) one of my favourite places. The house is named for its original owner, the Victorian artist Frederic, Lord Leighton (1830-1896). It was designed by George Aitchison, although Leighton added extensions and alterations over the next 30 years.
Justifiably, it is best known for the extraordinary Arab Hall, which displays Leighton's astonishing collection of over a thousand Islamic tiles, most which he brought back from Damascus in Syria.
Other interiors incorporate equally opulent peacock feather-coloured tiles by William de Morgan. Leighton's impressive studio, with its huge northern facing window, dome and apse, are located on the first floor. Paintings and drawings, mostly by Lord Leighton, are on view throughout the house. It is several years since I last visited, and it was even more gorgeous than I remembered, with the added bonus of an additional room being open to the public: Leighton's pretty, but (compared to the rest of the house) small and relatively simply furnished bedroom.
Leighton was one of the leading High Victorian artists, and walking around his house is uncannily like stepping into one of those impossibly exotic paintings that typified the era. I'm not as much an admirer of his work as I am of this house, which in my opinion is his masterpiece. Never much of a minimalist myself, for me a visit there is always a sheer delight.

Pictured above, from top: Leighton House (exterior view) and two views of the Arab Hall.