Happy first day of Spring. On a non-bookish note, I recall recent wanderings in Frederic Leighton’s house, in Holland Park. Leighton (1830-96) was a leading artist of the Victorian era, who painted in a mainly classical style. Leighton’s most best known painting is probably Flaming June, painted in 1895 (the same year as Gustav Klimt’s Die Musik, used for my header).

His house is a work of art in itself, studded with treasures he acquired on his travels to the Middle East. Everywhere there are references to other artists – William Morris’s wallpaper designs paper the one bedroom in the house, for example – and his opulent lifestyle. The Arab Hall is perhaps the most intriguing, with its ceramics from Damascus and woodwork from Egypt. It was meant no doubt to impress visitors, as well as act a cool, dark sanctuary for himself. The studio on the first floor is a double height room with enormous windows that flood the balconied space with light. It’s where Leighton painted most of his works. Downstairs at the foot of the stairs sits a magnificent iridescent peacock. The decor and contents of the house mix ancient and classical references with contemporary Victorian tastes, bold colours and subtle patterns, the familiar and the ‘Orient’. The mosque-like dome of the hall seen from the large garden at the back of the house casts a striking silhouette amongst the Kensington rooftops.

A Baronetcy was created for Leighton in the 1896, but he died the very next day of receiving the honour, thereby earning the record for the most short-lived Baronetcy in history since he had no children to whom it could pass. In some ways the travels, worldiness and accomplishments of a figure like Leighton remind me a lot of a Castiglione in Victorian guise.



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