Today I met up with my sister and friend and visited Leighton House in Kensington. It was a beautiful day – unseasonably warm – and we met at Holland Park Tube Station. It’s short walk from there to Holland Park itself. Once inside the park you could be miles away from the busy metropolis that is central London. It was easy to forget that we were only just in Zone 2!
There’s a modern cafe in the middle of the park and it was here that we stopped for coffee (or, in my case, tea) and a chat before heading to the house.
Frederic, Lord Leighton (1830 – 1896), was born in Scarborough, my favourite Yorkshire seaside resort. His father was a doctor and so was his grandfather. In fact his grandfather was primary physician to the Russian royal family in St Petersburg. He amassed a large fortune and because of this Leighton was cushioned for the rest of his life. Although his parents were unhappy with his choice of career they agreed to it and expected him to become “eminent in art”. His successes were many – not least that Queen Victoria bought his first major painting and in 1878 he was appointed President of the Royal Academy. On his death his sisters ensured that the house was left to the nation, or at least to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.
As usual no photography is allowed in the house. You enter a huge staircase hall, narcissus hall and the fabulous Arab hall. Leighton was a consummate collector of things Middle Eastern – tiles, textiles, ceramics, woodwork and other crafts collected on his travels – and art – from paintings by Corot and Tintoretto to his contemporaries G. F. Watts, John Everett Millais and William de Morgan. Despite all the oriental artefacts the house struck me as rather spare and un-Victorian. There’s a lovely big garden at the back but it’s closed in winter. I noticed that they also plan some entertaining events. There’s an Operatic Evening and a Carol Singing evening coming up in December.
For lunch we headed down High Street Kensington to Whole Foods Market where Thanksgiving was in full swing!