This extraordinary west London property is an artistic treasure trove thanks to its once being the residence and studio of Victorian artist Frederic, Lord Leighton.
The red brick home at 12 Holland Park Road was purpose-built by Leighton. He acquired the land in 1864 and commissioned his architect friend George Aitchison, who had never before designed a home, to draw up plans (along with his own input).
Work started on the property in 1865 and Leighton, who spent some of the year in Spain and Rome, was able to move in late in in the year. The property, which was rather plain on the outside, featured a large studio – with large window overlooking the garden – and his bedroom on the second floor.
Leighton was to subsequently undertake a series of extensions – the first, to enlarge the size of the studio, after just three years.
In 1877 he began construction of the domed Arab Hall which was inspired by his trips to Turkey and Syria and the interior of a 12th-century palace in Palermo, Sicily. Craftsmen were sourced from across London and the new room featured a gold mosaic frieze made in Venice and shipped in sections and wall tiles which mostly come from Damascus and which mostly date from the late 16th and early 17th century. It wasn’t fully completed until 1881.
A large “winter studio” featuring a glass roof for light was added in 1889-90 and the final addition was the Silk Room which, built on the first floor, was designed as a picture gallery for the works of Leighton’s contemporaries including the likes of John Everett Millais, George Frederic Watts and John Singer Sargent. It was completed just months before Leighton’s death in 1896.
After Leighton’s death, his collection of art was auctioned off. But his house was retained and in 1900 it opened as a museum run by a committee lead by Leighton’s neighbour and biographer Emilie Barrington to display art by Leighton and others.
In 1927, ownership of the house was transferred to current managers, The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.
Further additions to the house followed including a new wing for exhibition space.
Many of the home’s fittings and fixtures were lost during the 20th century but in the 1980s curator Stephen Jones began restoring the interiors, a process which continued in 2008-10 in what was known as the Closer to Home project. A further project of restoration was commenced in 2019 to refurbish the home’s 20th century additions and create new visitor facilities including a cafe.
The home’s garden, meanwhile, remains largely unchanged from Leighton’s design.
As well as the artistry contained in the house itself, the museum hosts a significant collection of art including paintings by Leighton himself as well as Pre-Raphaelites including Edward Burne-Jones, Millais and Watts. There’s also several of Leighton’s sculptures.
The Grade II*-listed house, which features an English Heritage Blue Plaque on the facade, has been seen in numerous films, TV shows and music videos including the Poirot TV series and the 2020 film, Rebecca.
WHERE: Leighton House Museum, 12 Holland Park Road (nearest Tube stations are Kensington (Olympia) and High Street Kensington; WHEN: 10am to 5:30pm Wednesday to Monday COST: £11 adults/£9 concession/£5 children (six to 18 years; five and under free); WEBSITE: www.rbkc.gov.uk/museums/leighton-house.