diamond geezer

 Monday, April 19, 2010

London excursion: Leighton House Museum
Leighton HouseJust reopened, just off Kensington High Street, is the former home of a Victorian artist you've probably never heard of. Frederic, Lord Leighton, was an accomplished mid 19th-century painter who rose to become President of the Royal Academy. He did portraits, landscapes and sculptures - even Queen Victoria approved - and used his wealth to commission a grand villa in a quiet Kensington avenue, fitting out the interior with sumptuous detail and rich decoration. After Frederic's death in 1896 the house ended up in the ownership of the local council, now Kensington & Chelsea, and they've just poured £1.6m into a complete restoration. Blimey, it's impressive. I'm sure the museum didn't used to be this crowded, but at the weekend it was full with visitors (mostly wealthy-ish locals and dear old twin-set ladies). A fiver gets you in. The most stunning rooms in the house are the three ground floor halls at its centre. Mosaic floors jostle with intricately tiled walls, the latter of an amazing colour that's somewhere between aquamarine and turquoise. The Arab Hall is a later addition, decked out in lofty Middle Eastern style, complete with golden dome above and dribbling fountain below. The ceramics here are genuine 17th century Damascan, while a black lattice window above was shipped in from Cairo. It's quite amazing, completely decadent, and would have overawed Leighton's social climbing artistic guests. Upstairs, past the peacock at the foot of the banister rail, is a light airy landing and the huge studio where Leighton painted his works. There are artworks hung all over the house, many by the former owner himself, others from his collection (the odd Constable, Corot and Millais, that sort of thing). A huge amount of effort has gone into restoring the place, from the most magnificent glass chandelier to the fabric adorning the walls of the Silk Room. But Leighton's plain and simple bedroom reveals the true man - the show and substance was all reserved for his visitors only. And now that could be you. [virtual tour]
by tube: Kensington Olympia

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