The former home and studio of the infamous British artist, and former President of the Royal Academy (1878–96) Lord Frederic Leighton, Leighton House, has announced it is reopening to the public on 15 October following an £8m transformation.
The studio-house of painter and sculptor Leighton is located on the edge of Holland Park, Kensington (after all, he was created a baronet of Holland Park Road) is known for its magnificent interiors as inspired by Middle East and North Africa. And so, cue the Arab Hall that features intricate mosaic floors and tiles acquired through Leighton’s travels to Turkey, Egypt and Syria.
As part of the redevelopment there is a transformed new wing dedicated to exhibition spaces, which will also highlight unearthed historic features. Here, the wing will play host to the museum’s debut contemporary commission Oneness, an 11-metre-high mural hand-painted by the Iranian artist Shahrzad Ghaffari that plays to the existing creative influence that’s drawn from the Middle East and North Africa.
In tandem, there will be an exhibition programme running until March 2023 across the two new gallery spaces that’ll present works by the local artist community entitled, Artists and Neighbours: the Holland Park Circle. From newly acquired artworks by Albert Moore to JJ Shannon and Colin Hunter, it will highlight prominent artists known as the ‘Holland Park Circle’ who inhabited purpose-built studio-houses, many of which still border Leighton House. Of course, there will also be a free exhibition of Leighton’s own studies and sketches, A Life of Drawing: Highlights from the Leighton collection, that will run from 15 October 2022 to 19 February. Sitting alongside this will be spaces in the form of the De Morgan café which opens onto the redesigned garden, a new Learning Centre and a collections store.
Designed by BDP architects, the project also sees the extension of the original house, Leighton’s Winter Studio, which was originally built in the late 1880s, and supported on cast-iron columns, now fully restored and merged with the rest of the historic house interiors. The Entrance Hall has been reinstated and a separate entrance to the house that was used by Leighton’s models (a common feature of the time following social etiquette) is also revealed for the first time.
David Artis, architect director at BDP, says: ‘This project will have a transformative effect on the museum, allowing it to be accessible to all for the first time, and provide excellent visitor and collection care facilities. This refurbishment supports the museum’s ambitions to safeguard and preserve the integrity of the original house, while meeting the needs of new audiences and cementing it as unique asset for the borough. Leighton House is one of London’s great houses and we are very much looking forward to seeing it re-open to the public at a time when such places are needed more than ever.’
Simultaneously, Leighton House’s sister museum, Sambourne House, a Victorian terraced house that was home to the Punch cartoonist and illustrator, Edward Linley Sambourne (1844-1910) will also open. Here, there will be a chance to view the wide-ranging collection of drawings and photographs taken to assist with Sambourne’s cartooning.
Supported by Kensington and Chelsea Council, the Friends of Leighton House, along with a £1.6million grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund, the transformation totals £8m and sets to underline Victorian culture and creativity.
Sir David Verey, CBE, Chairman of the Friends, says: ‘The Friends of Leighton House have been delighted to participate in this tripartite venture with Kensington and Chelsea Council and the National Lottery Heritage Fund. The Friends have contributed £2m to the project and warmly congratulate the entire team for their extraordinary work for the museum and the community.’
Main image: ©Leighton House RBKC