Frederick Lord Leighton was a celebrated Victorian artist, whose uniquely designed, eastern-influenced house in holland park is now a museum and gallery, visited recently by Eddie Menday
IN VICTORIAN times, Holland Park in west London was a favourite haunt of artists, as can be seen from the number of blue plaques on various houses. One, the house of Frederick Lord Leighton, is now an art gallery and museum. It is open to the public, and I visited recently.
Frederick Leighton (1830-1896) was born in Scarborough to a wealthy family. His grandfather had been physician to the Russian royal family and became quite rich. His father was also a medical man, and ensured Frederick was well provided for in his lifetime.
Leighton came to London to study at the University College School, where he developed an interest in art and sculpture. Like earlier rich young men, he undertook many tours abroad, spending time in Florence, Germany and Paris.
In 1864, he had a house built on the Holland Estate - an enclave of artists - and was encouraged by Lady Holland, who lived at nearby Holland House.
While he did not consider himself to be one of the Pre-Raphaelites, he was influenced by their work. As a young man, he sold one of his paintings, Dante in Exile (see inset, right) for £1,000 - a huge sum in those days.
Leighton House, which was designed by him and his friend George Aitchison, became his studio and home. Even today, it looks quite modern with its clean, un-Victorian lines.
On entering, one is struck by the wall tiles along the stairs, and the exquisite decoration of the Narcissus Hall - named after a central sculpture leading to the Arab Hall - shows the influence of Middle Eastern art, with a sunken pool and small fountain, surrounded by 17th-century tiles.
A high dome and stained glass gives the hall a glow, and one half expects to see a lady peering through the overhanging lattice window.
Passing a stuffed peacock on a post at the foot of the stairs, we ascend to the Drawing Room, Dining Room, and Silk Room and Studio, all crowded with Leighton's work.
Leighton never married, and there were rumours of his lifestyle, but he appeared to be most frugal in many ways. His bedroom has a single brass bedstead and a bearskin rug, and is still as he used it.
Queen Victoria purchased one of his works and visited the house. She invited him to Windsor Castle, where he received a knighthood in 1878.
Leighton seems to have had a preference for nudes and semi-clad women - so much so that several of his paintings in an exhibition in New York were removed so as not to offend visitors' sensibilities.
In the New Year Honours list of 1896, Leighton was ennobled and made Frederick Lord Leighton, but unfortunately, he died the following day.Many of the house's contents were sold. Kensington and Chelsea Council, which now owns the building, restored many of these artefacts to the house, including Leighton's personal letters and papers.
* Leighton House is at 12 Holland Park Road, off Adison Road, parallel to the main road. Entry is £5 (concessions £1).