A Billionaire’s Obsession: Perez Simon Collection On Display At Leighton House

Pérez Simón Collection

The Leighton House Museum in London will present a rarely seen collection of Victorian masterpieces of art belonging to the billionaire Mexican collector Juan Antonio Pérez Simón. A Victorian Obsession: The Pérez Simón Collection at Leighton House Museum comprises 50 exceptional paintings from the largest Victorian private art collection outside Great Britain, shown for the first time in the UK. Alongside five works by Frederic, Lord Leighton (four of which will be returning to the house in which they were painted) A Victorian Obsession will present paintings which have seldom if ever been exhibited before by many of the most celebrated Victorian artists, illustrating the astonishingly diverse representations of women that characterised this period of British art.   

The images range from the domestic to the romantic and from the symbolic to the overtly sensual.  The exhibition’s highlights include Alma-Tadema’s magnificent The Roses of Heliogabalus (1888), an iconic image of Roman decadence which has not been exhibited in London since 1913.  One of the great paintings of the Victorian era, it memorably depicts the Emperor Heliogabalus’s suffocation of his guests beneath a torrent of rose petals.  Leighton’s Greek Girls Picking up Pebbles on the Sea Shore (1871) is one of his earliest and most striking ‘aesthetic’ works, placing formal harmony above narrative content and showing Leighton as the master of English drapery.  Two further works, Antigone (1882) and the sexually charged Crenaia (ca.1880), feature the model Dorothy Dene. Leighton’s relationship with Dene was significant in his later years, when her role as his principal model, muse and social companion was widely commented on.

Outstanding pictures by Albert Moore, John Everett Millais, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones, John William Waterhouse, Edward Poynter, John Strudwick and John Godward will also be displayed in the intimate and splendid environment of Leighton House.  As President of the Royal Academy, Leighton and his extraordinary studio-house were at the centre of the late Victorian art world. His annual concerts and receptions became fixtures of the artistic social calendar. These artists knew the house well and Leighton’s own collection contained pictures by several of them, including a nude study by Albert Moore that will return to Leighton House for the first time since 1896 as part of the exhibition.

The exhibition has been shown at the Jacquemart-André Museum in Paris to great acclaim and is currently on display in Rome at the Chiostro del Bramante.  The collection will travel to the Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid before arriving in London, where it will be curated by Daniel Robbins, Senior Curator at Leighton House Museum and Véronique Gerard Powell who has worked extensively on the Pérez Simón Collection.  With the exception of Leighton’s painting studio, the permanent collections will be cleared from Leighton House and the exhibition hung throughout the historic interiors.  Leighton’s extraordinary decorative schemes will provide a uniquely appropriate and authentic setting for the pictures belonging to Juan Antonio Pérez Simón, making the exhibition an unmissable event and an unforgettable one-off aesthetic experience.

On his collection being displayed at Leighton House, Juan Antonio Pérez Simón commented ‘It is an honour to be a part of the journey that allows these masterpieces to be shown in such an authentic setting, and in some cases returning to their home. It gives me great joy to know that the public will be able to appreciate these exceptional paintings, making us accomplices in our everlasting duty to nourish the spirit.’

Senior curator for Leighton House Museum, Daniel Robbins said ‘It is a wonderful opportunity to work so closely with this fantastic collection of pictures and plan for their installation at Leighton House.  The house will be transformed by the paintings and the paintings enhanced by setting them within Leighton’s extraordinary decorative interiors.  Holding a temporary exhibition throughout the house is something I have long hoped to achieve and nothing could be a better fit than the Pérez Simón collection.’

Councillor Timothy Coleridge, Cabinet Member for Planning Policy, Transport and Arts, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, commented ‘It is a great honour for us to be hosting the only UK exhibition of this prestigious collection at Leighton House Museum.  There could be no more fitting venue than Leighton’s studio-house where some of the works were actually painted and which was familiar to so many of the artists who are represented in the exhibition.  We look forward to welcoming many new visitors to discover the museum and collection for the first time and enjoy a unique aesthetic experience.’

A Victorian Obsession: The Pérez Simón Collection at Leighton House Museum 14 November 2014 – 29 March 2015
Albert Moore, A Quartet: A painter’s tribute to the Art of Music 1868 Oil on canvas The Pérez Simón collection, Mexico © Studio Sébert Photographes