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Thursday, 24 October 2013

#Hipstermuseums Leighton House Museum

In this series we are exploring London’s smaller, offbeat museums. Unlike the big players (*Nudges* BM and V&A) the little guys may not be slamming visitor figures with blockbuster exhibitions but they are fascinating, often beautiful and inspiring places that you just have to see. So this season #hipstermuseums are freaking sick. Lad.

Of course he has a beard.
Leighton House museum situated just off of Kensington High Street is the former home of the infamous Victorian painter and sculpture Lord Frederick Leighton and it’s totally exclusive as the only purpose-built studio-home open to the public. Only one bedroom occupies this house with numerous impressive studio rooms and exhibition spaces filling up the large plot of Land in Holland Park. Leighton had dreamed of a purpose build studio house but it wasn’t until he acquired the land in 1864 and collaborated with his close friend and architect George Aitchinson that this dream could become reality. Like every wealthy Victorian Leighton was inspired by his travels across the expanding empire and further afield in the Middle East, resulting in thirty years of redesigning and remodelling with the help of Aitchinson to create the hugely characteristic home.

The house provides on of my favourite singular collection displays in London, the extraordinary Arab hall is the main attraction of Leighton House, added to the house in 1877 – 1871 it is a pure example of how Leighton’s travels inspired his interior décor. The design was inspired by La Zisa in Palermo, Sicily a 12th century Norman Palace and his collection provided the decoration. Visiting Turkey, Egypt, Syria and Damascus across in mid-19th century he collected Arabic tiles and with the help of his friend Ethnographer and explorer Sir Richard Burton, Leighton was able to line the walls of the Arab Hall with his impressive hoard.

Can I tile my bathroom with these beautiful ceramics? 

Not only is Leighton House a perfect example of a #hipster museum (down the off beaten track past Kensington High Street) he was the Victorian answer to a hipster. He was from a wealthy medical family he was supported financially and able to explore his biblical and classical work, build a fabulous house and start a movement. Leighton’s move and purpose built studio house inspired a whole group of artists to do the same combining a domestic home with a studio resulting in the Holland Park Circle Including infamous painters like George Frederick Watts and Valentine Prinsep the Holland Park Circle became the leading group of Victorian Artists with the majority becoming royal academia’s. His notoriety and influence was a key part of the Victorian art movement and his works even inspired the rebellious pre Raphaelites.  Months before his death the ‘Silk Room’ was completed, a purpose built exhibition space the room’s walls were lined with green silk upon which works by the pre-Raphaelites like Millais, Sargent and Alma-Tadema are hung.

An Athlete Wrestling with a Python.
On display at Tate Britain
Like every good hipster home the studio became the place to party and Leighton’s gatherings were notorious - Queen V even popped over once. The studio space dominates the rear of the first floor, with huge windows bringing in streams of sunlight and deep Victorian red walls you can see why he chose this plot and this size. The walls  are now adorned some famous pieces and photographs of favoured sculptures sit on the window ledge. My fav Leighton Sculpture currently on display at Tate is ‘An Athlete wrestling with a Python’ because it’s like so homoerotic, sexual and like… progressive.

Leighton’s role on the Victorian art scene was honoured in 1878 when he became President of the Royal Academy of Arts, a leading figure both academically and socially he was regularly consulted on matters of art and culture, however his personal life remained closely guarded and he never married. Rumours and debates over his sexuality and illegimate children are still rife, however having left no personal letters or diaries all that is left to interpret is his home and collection.
I hope he tidied it up for the Queen's visit. 

The Museum is open daily except Tuesday from 10 -5pm and costs £5.

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