Leighton Home Museum reopens after £8m refurbishment – and it’s an antidote to our occasions


hink of an artist’s colony in London, and I guess the final place you’d provide you with is Kensington. However within the 1860s, to the top of the century, the respectable backstreets off Kensington Excessive Road – then nonetheless dotted with farms – had been awash with artists.

Essentially the most distinguished of the Kensington artist set was Frederic, Lord Leighton, who lived at 12 Holland Park Street, the final reminder of that vanished world. Now, following an intensive refurbishment, it has been returned to its former glory.

Leighton was well-known for, amongst different much-loved work, Flaming June, and the reasonably racy The Fisherman and the Syren. He was maybe much less well-known for the illustrations he drew for George Elliot’s novel, Romola however they’re no much less beautiful.

He moved in essentially the most elevated inventive circles – he knew Ingres, Delacroix, Corot and Millet; Whistler and Millais and quite a few Pre-Raphaelites who would have been no stranger to his extraordinary home in Kensington.

Frederic Leighton

/ The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea

Leighton Home museum, with its beautiful Orientalist inside and its well-known tiled Arab and Narcissus Halls, is re-opening on October 1 after an prolonged, however sympathetic, £8 million refurbishment. And it was definitely worth the wait.

To reply many individuals’s first query, sure, it now has the good De Morgan café – displaying off ceramics by Leighton’s modern, the novelist and potter William de Morgan – searching onto the gardens, good loos and a bigger store, with tasteful stationery. (Who doesn’t like a Flaming June birthday card?)

The event opens up area beneath Leighton’s studios searching onto the gardens, revealing the unique brickwork, and there’s a good-looking new reception space. Downstairs, the previous butler’s quarters have been transformed for artwork actions and youngsters’s workshops within the pantry. There’s storage for the Leighton archive within the basement – the curator, Daniel Robbins, shudders to recall the previous provision (let’s simply say that it’s an excellent factor there was by no means a hearth).

The brand new areas open up the world beneath Leighton’s studio searching onto the gardens

/ Dirk Lindner Pictures

Higher nonetheless, there’s a subterranean exhibition room for a few of Leighton’s 700 drawings. “They’re from his childhood to the very finish of his life”, says Robbins. And really pretty they’re too. Some are the little stamp-like drawings the place he sketched out plans for his work, which might be transferred meticulously onto bigger squares then onto canvas. Later he’d use these as a file of his work. “He by no means did something spontaneously”, stated Robbins. To not put too advantageous a degree on it, Leighton looks like a management freak, however then not each artist has to resemble Francis Bacon.

The beauty of the brand new extension is that it liberates Leighton’s precise home from administrative litter and storage and makes it extra totally itself. Out goes the cramped ticket workplace into the brand new spacious annexe; in come guests to the very reception room that Leighton’s friends would have entered, the place the very first thing they see is a good-looking portray by Domenico Tintoretto (son of the well-known Tintoretto) – Leighton adored Venetian artwork.

The brand new entrance space to the precise of the home meant eradicating a number of the crass surfacing that Kensington council, which took over possession of the home within the Twenties, had constructed over the outside, damaging advantageous unique brickwork within the course of.

The well-known Arab Corridor stays untouched and glowing as ever

/ RBKC Leighton Home Museum. Picture by Kevin Moran

It opens up the outdated doorway which was as soon as the fashions’ entrance, permitting them direct entry to the studios above, reasonably than into the home, which could have occasioned remark from the neighbours. “You didn’t need folks to see a succession of younger ladies coming out and in”, says Robbins.

There’s explanatory materials about Leighton and a cupboard to showcase objects related to him. One is his ceremonial sword, offered to him in his capability because the lieutenant colonel of the Artists’ Rifle Volunteer Corps, an infantry unit of creatives set as much as fight what was regarded as an imminent French invasion in 1859. Don’t you simply love the notion of Leighton giving marching orders to William Morris and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and the squabbles there should have been over the color of the uniform?

The home is known for its stunning near-Jap tiles, mainly Syrian work. There’s an echo of that affiliation within the advantageous new inlaid furnishings within the new entrance corridor, executed by Syrian craftsmen. The curving stairwell is embellished with a mural, referred to as Oneness, by an Iranian-born artist, Shahrzad Ghaffari, in colors paying homage to the peacock corridor, with paint thickly utilized, like an artist’s palette; Leighton, I worry, would have hated it.

Modern artist Shahrzad Ghaffari’s fee adorns the brand new entrance corridor’s curving stairwell

/ Dirk Lindner Pictures

One revelation is the restoration of Leighton’s winter studio, the place he may work at nighttime and smoggy months.

The primary exhibition following the reopening of the gallery is Artists and Neighbours, which remembers simply what a buzz there should have been right here throughout Leighton’s lifetime. Your complete road and the one behind was inhabited by artists, most of them nipping out and in of one another’s homes, and plenty of drawn by the proximity of Leighton. A few of these artists are unfairly uncared for now however had been as soon as terrifically trendy.

The primary large artist within the space was GF Watts who got here to dwell at Little Holland Home (the dower constructing for Holland Home) in Melbury highway – as his hostess, Sara Prinsep, wryly noticed, he got here to remain for 3 days, and remained for 30 years – one motive why Leighton gravitated to the world, however damnably, that was bulldozed within the Sixties, and the creatives have lengthy been changed by funding bankers and the odd pop star.

So hurrah for Leighton Home, a gem of Victorian orientalism 5 minutes from the Design Museum. All of us want an beautiful retreat, will we not? Should you haven’t been, go. It’s an antidote to our occasions.

Artists and Neighbours: the Holland Park Circle (15 October 2022 – 19 March 2023)

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