Leighton House, former home and studio of the leading Victorian artist, Frederic, Lord Leighton (1830-1896) is truly one of London’s hidden gems. A short walk from High Street Kensington station, the elegant house on a quiet residential street is a museum and art gallery, which offers a unique glimpse into the life of the artist at home, as well as providing a “private palace for art”.
Victorian Visions is an exhibition of Pre-Raphaelite and Victorian paintings from the John Schaeffer collection. Schaeffer, a Dutch-Australian art collector, had a close and valued relationship with Leighton House Museum, and the exhibition allows visitors to view important works by Leighton that are usually held in Australia. It also includes paintings by Pre-Raphaelite and other major Victorian artists, such as William Holman Hunt, Edward Burne-Jones, G F Watts, and John William Waterhouse, many of whom worked in the vicinity of Holland Park, close to Leighton’s former home.
An important artist in his own right, Frederic Leighton was also significant in the Victorian artistic establishment, and so it seems entirely appropriate that his home should host an exhibition of works by him and his contemporaries from a fine collection put together with passion and commitment over many years.
The artworks featured in this exhibition are arranged throughout the public rooms in the museum. They are not labelled, so an exhibition guide is essential to ensure that nothing is missed. A variety of subjects beloved of Victorian and Pre-Raphaelite artists is covered: Biblical scenes (The Vision of Ezekiel: the valley of dry bones, In Gethsemane), depictions of social realism (The Sempstress and Worn Out), literary (The Parting of Burns and Highland Mary), Medieval (Chivalry), and classical references (The Return of Ulysses and Waterhouse’s magnificent, Orientalist-inspired Marianne). A tiny canvas, displayed in a glass case alongside the artist’s palette and paints, is the oil sketch for Leighton’s famous painting Flaming June, and there are also two of Leighton’s sculptures in the exhibition. The very large paintings are tastefully displayed in the Perrin Gallery, a 1920s extension to the house.
Being able to view the paintings in the kind of domestic setting for which they may have originally been intended affords the visitor a very special and intimate exhibition experience. The paintings sit comfortably amongst the furnishings and decorative art in the house, and visitors are able to wander freely from room to room, for the paintings are not organised in any specific order. Thus, one can enjoy both fine art and the beautiful Arab-inspired interiors of Leighton House.