Wandering in Leighton House Museum, London

Leighton House Museum is one of my favourite London Museums – definitely one of those “hidden gems” that most people have never heard of but which I have returned to again and again over the years when visiting London.

The reason I’ve never written a post about Leighton House Museum is because you aren’t allowed to take photographs when visiting. And a travel blog post without photographs is a bit dull in my view.

But recently I was invited to an event there, a piano recital in Lord Leighton’s studio no less! And we were allowed to take photographs of the gorgeous interior that transports me every time. So at last I can share with you my favourite museum in London. The light was very low so the quality is not the best but I hope you get an impression that will send you rushing to Holland Park!

As with so many small museums in the world, this building tucked away in Holland Park was once someone’s home. Similarly to Keats House in Hampstead, it was home of a famous person.

Frederic, Lord Leighton (1830-1896) was an eminent Victorian, a painter and sculptor who ended up as president of the Royal Academy of Arts (an English institution that promotes the visual arts). He painted mostly serious, classical subjects but was also associated with the Pre-Raphaelites.

Leighton House Museum is nicknamed “a private palace of art” on the website and the whole house, from exterior to the smallest detail inside is certainly the result of the intent of someone passionate about art and aesthetics in every form.

The house is classically-styled red brick and inside, as you would expect, there is a collection of his paintings, drawings, letters and belongings.

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But the main attraction is the decoration of the interior – created at Leighton’s behest to reflect his fascination with the Arabic world.

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The highlight is the Arab Hall, a truly incredible space that sets off to best effect his prized collection of Iznik tiles. I have seen Islamic art and design in various places around the world and this place carries me to exotic locales in an instant.

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From the tinkling of the central fountain to the rich turquoise of the tiled walls and the intricately-carved wooden screens, every inch of the place is beautiful. Can you imagine the parties held here? Lord Leighton’s circle of friends included many of the leading lights of his day from politicians to poets.

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At the top of the house is the spacious studio, carefully designed with huge windows to let in the natural light so important to an artist.

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If you are visiting London during the warmer months don’t forget to go around the back and spend a little time in the garden. This lovely expanse of lawn and flowerbed is of a size that most Londoners could scarcely dream of these days!

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Leighton House was certainly a labour of love for Lord Leighton. It took over 30 years of development in collaboration with architect George Aitchison before it was completed to his satisfaction.

Make sure you visit Leighton House Museum next time you’re in London.

By Natasha von Geldern

Have you visited Leighton House Museum? Did you love it?

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