Leighton House Museum, Leighton House, London

1.00

Lost in a house of frill repute

Lord Leighton was one of the most successful artists of the Victorian era. In 1865, he bought a modest house for himself in South Kensington. Over the next three decades he transformed that house into something akin to a grandiose palace of art. Unfortunately, at his death all the contents of the house – furniture, paintings, ceramics – were sold off. When it came to be opened to the public as a museum in his memory within a couple of decades of his death, it felt rather hollow, like an empty shell. Now, after more than two years of refurbishment, the house looks more like its former self. Paintings that once hung here have been lent back. Copies of some of the furnishings have been lovingly re-created. Floors have been re-painted, red and blue. Even some of the paintings have been copied – take a look at the fake Corots in the drawing room. You can now see the house much as Leighton would have enjoyed seeing it, in all its grandiose vulgarity, complete with his paintings, which are some of the worst, the most sugary, the most overlarded with false sentiment, that were ever painted to please the eye of a reigning monarch. Yes, Queen Victoria set him on his way to fashionable prosperity by purchasing one of his vast canvases from the Royal Academy.

Leighton – like the painter Frederic Church, his American contemporary, who created a fake-Moorish palace called Oleanna for his own delectation which overlooks the Hudson Valley to this day – had a love for fake oriental extravagance, so the centrepiece of his house is its Arab Hall, complete with walls of Damascene tiles (acquired for him by his friend Richard Burton), lattice screens, niches, a newly re-gilded dome, and sputtering fountain. If you walk backwards out of this essentially purposeless space, gingerly, reverentially, awkwardly (as befits a quasi-religious experience), you find yourself in the Narcissus Hall, and then into the Staircase Hall, where several grand ceremonial flights, ever on the turn, sweep you up to the Silk Room and thence to Leighton's studio. Paintings are everywhere, and very few of them are worth a second glance. Those which are worth a second glance – the loaned portrait of an old man by Tintoretto above the fireplace in the Silk Room, for example – seem diminished by being in the same company as wretched, muddily painted "Rizpah", or other sugary, pouty dames of unfathomable sorrow with names like "Pavona" or "Bianca". Fabrics tastefully drizzle from the backs of chairs. There is a flourish of peacocks' feathers. We are almost tempted to lounge on a divan.

What exactly was Leighton up to here? Well, he was up to the serious business of promoting his own art and that of his friends. It was all spectacle. He encouraged tours by journalists and art lovers, and they came, in their droves, from all over the world, and left detailed accounts of their visits.

Reopens 3 April (020 7602 3316)

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam