More than a museum – ostentatious Victorian living

Leighton House Museum in Kensington, London, is a sharp reminder that bling and an overt display of conspicuous consumption is certainly not a 21st-century phenomenon. This glorious, ornate house was the private home and studio of Frederic, Lord Leighton (1830-96). Leighton was a painter, sculptor and illustrator, and a leading Victorian neoclassicist who was so successful during his lifetime he was knighted in 1886 and then ennobled in 1896 by Queen Victoria.

His home, the house at 12 Holland Park Road, was designed and built by George Aitchison under Leighton’s personal direction and was to reflect his, Leighton’s, premier status as arbiter of taste. And, at the same time the house was to augment his successful career as an artist.

'Flaming June' by Frederic Leighton.  Oil on canvas. 120 cm x 120 cm.  Museo de Arte de Ponce, Ponce, Puerto Rico.
‘Flaming June’ by Frederic Leighton.
Oil on canvas. 120 cm x 120 cm.
Museo de Arte de Ponce, Ponce, Puerto Rico.

Art historically he is known as a neoclassicist however he did associate with some of the other famous Victorian ‘art celebrities’ of the period such as the Pre-Raphaelites Rossetti, Millais and Burne-Jones. Walking round the Arab Hall, the Narcissus Hall, the drawing room, the Silk Room and the studio you can imagine how sensational it must have been to have attended a social gathering hosted by Sir Frederic Leighton.


The current exhibition ‘A Victorian Obsession’ (ending on Monday, 6 April 2015) is comprised of 52 paintings that have been collected over the past 20 years by the Spanish born, Juan Antonio Pérez Simón, one of Mexico’s most successful businessmen. The art, mostly by Leighton and Alma-Tadema with a few canvasses from other artists of the same period, is displayed throughout the house. In my opinion hanging such an exhibition in this rich, original interior enhances the viewing experience and also provides the essential context for looking at paintings that are often viewed as saccharin and distant from our contemporary ‘less is more’ taste.

Author: agnesashe

Artisan, blogger and passionate East Anglian working from home.

9 thoughts on “More than a museum – ostentatious Victorian living”

  1. Yes how perfect that the venue is as interesting as the exhibit! One of my favourite galleries in New York is the Neue Gallery. Although not nearly as grand as Leighton House it is an interesting old building too.

  2. As you probably know here in the UK we have a number of grand country estates open to the public where you can see art displayed in interiors. However, many of them are so grand that their large rooms almost feel like a museum space. The beauty of Leighton House is that the amazing ornate rooms are more on the scale of a townhouse interior.

  3. D’you know, when I lived in London, I never went there, because I couldn’t stand Victorian art at the time. It’s still not my favourite, but I now appreciate it for what it is, in all its ornate, overblown glory. I’ll have to make the effort to get there

  4. Lord Leighton is so “over-the-top” one can’t help but be drawn into his idealized worlds of opulence and high drama – I fell under the spell at the first encounter. It is no wonder his own quarters were designed to suit… Thanks for the peek!

    1. Glad you liked the peek – it would have been so much better had I’d been able to use my proper camera. All the rooms were shuttered and very dark, but intensely evocative as you would expect for a man, as you say so ‘over-the’top’. Still, what is life without dramatic fireworks every now and then? 🙂

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