Posted by: marymarthatours | November 15, 2010

A Visit to the Frederic Leighton House in London

Frederic, Lord Leighton (pronounced Lay-ton, not Lie-ton or Lee-ton as I would have expected), 1830-1896, was a well-respected English painter of the nineteenth century. Like many British painters, he studied in Florence and Paris before returning to London. He was a friend and associate of the Pre-Raphaelite painters, and his themes and techniques reflect the Pre-Raphaelite principles of classical or medieval themes and detailed realism.

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Leighton’s self portrait (1880) and his most famous painting, “Flaming June” (painted 1895)

Several years ago, I saw Leighton’s most famous work, “Flaming June”, at the Ponce Art Museum in Ponce, Puerto Rico. The diaphanous orange gown over June’s sinuous body is amazing, but I wouldn’t have wanted to be the model that had to hold that awkward pose.

Leighton was the first painter to be given a peerage. In 1896, in failing health, he was created Baron Leighton; he died the very next day. After his death, his sisters struggled to save the house that Leighton had lived in, worked in, and expanded from 1864 until his death. Recently renovated, the Leighton House Museum once again reflects the times and tastes of Frederic Leighton.

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Leighton House from the street and from the back

On our recent visit to London, Martha and I added the Leighton House Museum to our itinerary of less-well-known attractions. It was another wonderful experience. On the ground floor, the most amazing room is the two-story Arab Hall, covered from floor to ceiling with over 1,000 Islamic tiles collected by Leighton in the Middle East. Additional tiles at the entrance to the room were designed by William de Morgan, the preeminent English Arts and Crafts ceramic artist. Fabrics and wallpaper include some designed by William Morris.

Leighton’s studio on the upper floor is filled with light from the tall windows seen in the photo of the back of the house. His paintings and art collection fill the walls. We enjoyed chatting there with the current artist in residence, Aris Raissis, who was working on a series of portraits of famous opera heroines. He gave the studio space a real feeling of continuity with Leighton.

In the modern gallery next to Leighton’s studio, we were intrigued by the work of Iranian-born Parastou Forouhar. Her graphic prints, an artistic commentary on the state of women in Iran, are filled with power.

After seeing the house and gallery, we wandered through the side-yard pergola to the huge park-like backyard. There we saw London families picnicking on a large expanse of lawn which featured a surprising sculpture of a North American Indian battling a South American serpent — sort of a New World St. George and the Dragon.

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Martha at Leighton House Museum and the backyard sculpture

We definitely recommend the Leighton House Museum for anyone interested in the English Arts and Crafts movement, the Aesthetic movement, the work of William de Morgan and Pre-Raphaelite artists, and exhibitions featuring contemporary artists.

Website of Leighton House Museum – http://www.rbkc.gov.uk/subsites/museums/leightonhousemuseum.aspx

For additional information about the artists whose work we saw at the Leighton House Museum:

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