Leighton House has been restored to its former glory after a major refurbishment that has taken several years. The project saw the removal of walls dating from when the building served as a children’s library in the post-war era.
This stunning aesthetic movement structure was the former home and studio of the leading Victorian artist Frederic Lord Leighton (1830–1896). The house was designed by his great friend, the architect George Aitchison RA, to showcase his art and decorative arts collection and to entertain and impress the foremost artists, collectors and celebrities of the day.
The building has now been completely refurbished, revealing original historical features
Leighton’s status as President of the Royal Academy (18 years) encouraged several artists of the time to build their own studio houses in the immediate vicinity, creating the ‘Holland Park Circle, a unique grouping without equivalent in the country. The museum also tells the story of these houses and acts as a gateway for their wider appreciation.
The building has now been completely refurbished, revealing original historical features and creating new exhibition spaces and displays. For example, the De Morgan café opens onto the redesigned garden, a new Learning Centre and a collections store. Full step-free access is also provided across the building for the very first time.
The new wing features a series of commissions that respond to the iconic interiors of the historic house and continue the house’s unique dialogue with artists and craftsmanship from the Middle East and North Africa. Oneness, the first contemporary artwork on permanent display at the museum, is an 11-metre-high mural hand-painted by the Iranian artist Shahrzad Ghaffari, which envelopes the curved walls of a new helical staircase across three floors. Inspired by a 13th-century poem by Rumi exploring cultural unity, its turquoise calligraphic brushstrokes reference the distinctive tiles from the iconic Arab Hall. A suite of specially commissioned furniture handmade by Syrian artisans based in Amman, Jordan, is also featured in the new spaces. The pieces feature marquetry derived from inlaid motifs on a Syrian chest that Lord Leighton acquired on his travels and converted into a seat within the historic house and was created in partnership with Turquoise Mountain – a UK charity set up to preserve and develop traditional craft practices, originally in Afghanistan, as a means of economic regeneration.
The capital development of Leighton House has been supported by Kensington and Chelsea Council and the Friends of Leighton House alongside a grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund.
Top Photo: © Artlyst 2022
Leighton House, the remarkable studio house of Victorian artist and former President of the Royal Academy, Frederic, Lord Leighton (1830-96), reopens to the public on Saturday, 15 October, following a major restoration project.