Leighton House is one of those hidden gems of London. Located just of High Street Kensington and next to Holland Park, the home of the erstwhile Lord Leighton it is slightly unprepossessing from the outside but once inside its treasures are revealed (apart from the first two the photos are all from the Leighton House Website.
As you can see from the outside it is a slightly dull if intriguingly structured red brick building with a capacious garden round the back (currently closed for the winter). Inside reveals a cornucopia of splendor. You have to pay to get in but that includes the current Flaming June exhibition which is on until 2nd April. It was this exhibition that had drawn me to the house in the first place.
The ground floor hallway is made up of a lusturous blue tiled hallway complete with stuffed peacock and various ornateness. It also includes the arab hall (below left). This includes a sunken pool with fountain, and stretches up to the doomed ceiling a story above. It is bedecked with ornate Arabic and Turkish tiling, ornate gold, and wooden fretwork windows, topped off with the crown-like chandelier that you can see in the photo. It is quite something and if you do you will spend quite some time standing there, head craned upwards trying to take it all in. This is a man who liked opulence it would seem.
The man himself, (portrait below complete with fabulous beard), constructed his house around an enormous studio, on the first floor looking a little like a medieval banqueting hall. There are on display around the house various original letters to and from the man himself. His hand-writing is terrible though and I could barely decipher a word.
This being his house there are various examples of his work around the place, very detailed high Victorian style, with sumptuous rich colours. People are his forte. There are also various sketches, delicate and elegant in style. Many of them are preparatory works for later paintings like the one below right which later becomes Flaming June.
The main reason for my visit was to see Flaming June, which is on loan and on display until 2nd April. It is on display with four of the other works that were produced and first exhibited with it at the Royal Society. Only partial pictures are available on the website but I do recommend you go and see them if you can. There is Candida (below top left) and orange clad women against a velvety red background.
Next is The Maid with Golden Hair (below top right) a soft focus portrait, with the red haired model that features in many of his paintings (and was his mistress in classic painter style).
The miserable woman who has just realised she is not wearing deodorant is Lachrymae. My favourite though is the one next to that (bottom right) is Twixt Hope and Fear. I like it very much. The fur texture is amazing but I like the pose and facial expression and the whole composition of the piece. It was not surprised to find out that when first displayed it was thought to be a better painting than its now more famous siblng.
The piece itself that is the star of the show is Flaming June (crappy cropped photo of it below). It has an interesting history in that it was found behind a plaster wall by some builders and eventually sold to a Peruvian businessman who donated it to a Peruvian museum. It is from there it is on loan.
A symphony of orange and red. The sheer cloth is beautiful rendered, set of by the iridescent sea, behind it. It is well worth going to see it. I would recommend that you do.
William John Mackenzie
I am an artist with a specialism in landscapes and still life. My contact details are here.