The Museums team has chosen some of their favourite artworks from the Leighton House collection to share with you – we hope they will remind you of your own favourites and bring back some happy memories while we remain closed to help stop the spread of coronavirus. You might also find some inspiration revisiting the House’s spaces with our virtual tour: https://panoramea.co.uk/leightonhousemuseum/.
We look forward to being able to welcome you once more to see these in person!
Sam Butler – Events Manager
Frederic, Lord Leighton, Clytemnestra, oil on canvas, c. 1874.
“I like it for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it has a very long title – Clytemnestra from the Battlements of Argos Watches for the Beacon Fires Which Are to Announce the Return of Agamemnon – which Leighton seemed to like doing. But really I like it because it shows a strong woman in a defiant pose. We know she’s plotting Agamemnon’s murder. Unlike many of the paintings from the era, or any era for that matter, Leighton’s included, where women are shown mostly lolling around in various states of undress, this portrays a woman in a dominant and interesting role.”
Jana Haragalova, Community Engagement Officer
Murano Glass Chandelier, Drawing room, mid-Nineteenth Century
This is not the original chandelier Leighton owned but it is a close match in looks and provenience to the original Murano chandelier sold in auction after Leighton’s death.
“I like how it stops you in your tracks as soon as you notice it in the room; made of such a fragile material yet of impressive size and construction. It definitely stands out in the room against the white ceiling. I love the delicious colours and organic shapes, its slightly outrageous, unapologetically traditional design. It is like a carnival in glass, an invitation to joy. I love that Leighton chose it for his carefully designed interior. I like the sometimes puzzled looks on visitors’ faces trying to work out if they can hate it or love it without shame because it is so different to the modern taste of muted shapes and tones. I love the fact you can still buy yourself a very similar chandelier from the famous glassmakers on the Murano island close to Venice. I love there is still enough people in the world who do just that, keeping the wonderful Murano glass tradition going….”
Hannah Lund – Assistant Curator
Frederic, Lord Leighton, The Death of Brunelleschi, oil on canvas, 1852.
“This is definitely one of my favourite works in the Museum. Leighton painted it when he was just 21, right at the start of his career. Most of the images and accounts we have of Leighton are from when he was an older man, a successful artist and President of the Royal Academy. This painting gives you an insight into ‘young Leighton’- full of ambition and aspiration. I remember seeing the work when I first visited the Museum as a teenager and being amazed that someone just a couple of years older than me could have achieved so much!”
Sally Dobinson – House and Collections Manager
Frederic, Lord Leighton, Colour Sketch for The Triumph of Music, oil on canvas, 1855-6
“I’ve always been fond of the colour sketch The Triumph of Music: Orpheus, by the Power of his Art redeems his Wife from Hades. I think it has a jewel-like quality and I like the way the main figures have been highlighted in quite a colourful, positive way against such a gloomy background. The scene is of Orpheus playing the violin for all he’s worth to Pluto and Persephone (the king and queen of the underworld) in order to redeem his wife, Eurydice who waits in the background.
The completed work was not at all well received at the Royal Academy exhibition of 1856 and Leighton was greatly disheartened by all the criticism, particularly when Cimabue’s Madonna had been such a recent success. Giving Orpheus a ‘modern’ violin in place of a lyre also did not go down well with the critics.
Was it really as bad as all that? We’ll never know, this colour sketch and a couple of drapery studies are all that survives – the finished painting is untraced.”
Tracey Lazarus – Tour & Volunteer Officer
William De Morgan, Blue tiles for Leighton House, c. 1877-1881
“I love the peacock blue of these tiles in the Entrance and Arab Hall of Leighton House as visitors are always so overawed by the colour. De Morgan was asked by Leighton to make the tiles as he realised he hadn’t bought enough back from his travels in the Middle East to finish his Arab Hall. They were an artistic success but not a financial one as De Morgan was left £500 out of pocket due to the heavy production costs but never let on to Leighton.”
Charlotte Villiers – Learning Officer
Frederic, Lord Leighton, Orpheus and Eurydice, oil on canvas, 1864
“I have chosen this painting because I think it beautifully and powerfully demonstrates Leighton’s mastery of light and shade, the depiction of the human body and the rendering of textiles. It also demonstrates his gift for cutting straight to the essence of a story. Leighton has not chosen the more obvious moment when Orpheus turns to look at Eurydice, elated as he reaches the light, but the intensity and tragedy of the moment after, when he looks away in horror as he realises what he has done, Eurydice clinging to him as she leaves him for a second time.
As with any favourite thing, there are reasons for my choice beyond an appreciation of the formal qualities of this painting as a work of art – my affection is also woven through with memories. I have a fond recollection of the first time I actually saw this work, standing in front of it with my very dear ex-colleague, friend and Browning scholar Michael Meredith, as he talked with his usual wit and knowledge of Robert Browning’s friendship with Leighton, and the poem that accompanies the painting.
But give them me, the mouth, the eyes, the brow!
Let them once more absorb me! One look now
Will lap me round for ever, not to pass
Out of its light, though darkness lie beyond:
Hold me but safe again within the bond
Of one immortal look! All woe that was,
Forgotten, and all terror that may be,
Defied,—no past is mine, no future: look at me!
I also feature this painting all the time in our learning programmes. Sometimes our young learners are familiar with the story, sometimes they are not. It actually doesn’t particularly matter, as they all respond to the intensity of the moment captured, the skill of the artist and can read the painting before we go into greater depth and detail. It is a wonderful work for developing confidence and visual literacy skills, giving access to classical culture and of course, encouraging an appreciation for Leighton as a remarkable artist. The painting also works in developing risk taking, just putting your hand up and having a guess, the idea that getting things wrong is part of the process of eventually getting things right. And I have some very fond memories of this process too – young learners usually spot that there is something on Orpheus’ back, and guesses range from guitars to harps to cellos. Only once has a young learner suggested ‘an electric chair’ however …”
Daniel Robbins – Senior Curator
Jacopo Tintoretto, Portrait of an Elderly Gentleman, c.1590
“In 2001 I received a phone call from the art dealer John Somerville, who was then involved in settling a private estate. John said that amongst the pictures was a fine portrait by Tintoretto that was believed to have once been Leighton’s, and would we be interested in its return? The picture was being offered in lieu of Inheritance Tax and, after a lengthy process, the work was accepted by the Secretary for Culture, Media and Sport and allocated to Leighton House at no charge! It all somehow seemed too good to be true. Leighton had a great love of Venice and Venetian painting of the sixteenth century. His collection contained seven pictures attributed to Tintoretto, including the present portrait, which can be seen in period photographs hanging over the fireplace in the Silk Room on the first floor. Tintoretto was evidently an important artist for Leighton and undoubtedly he would have placed great store in such a striking and accomplished portrait. Almost all of Leighton’s original collection, including the portrait, had been sold at Christie’s immediately following his death. After an interval of just over a century, the picture was the first of his Old Master collection to return and hang once more in the location Leighton had selected for it within the house. Others have followed, but it was that phone call and the return of this wonderful portrait that provided the impetus to make this happen.”
Claudia Camus Garrido – Development Officer
Frederick Goodall, Study of a Farm Cart, oil on canvas, 1852
“I find this oil sketch absolutely fascinating – I love how it showcases Goodall’s thoroughness: the addition of the colour chart and notes, the signature and date and the amount of detail in the study of a humble farm cart makes me think of a man aware of his skill and the value of his work. I like imagining the history of this hidden gem and how it came to be in Leighton’s collection – Did he feel inspired by his fellow Academician’s attention to detail? Did he use it as an example for his pupils? Its quirky provenance also makes me think I was not the only one intrigued by the painting: Leighton’s loyal butler’s was likely permitted to choose among wo To add to its charm, the work was among those works that Leighton gave to his loyal butler J. Sandercock, and it only returned to the house in 1958, donated by Sandercock’s son more than 60 years after Leighton’s death.
Ana Garcia – Marketing and Press
William De Morgan, George Aitchison & Frederic, Lord Leighton, The Narcissus Hall, c. 1877-1881
“Why choose an object when you can you can choose…a whole room? The Narcissus Hall is my absolute favourite spot in Leighton’s house. Like Tracey, I never tire of the mesmerising effect of De Morgan tiles; their unique turquoise tonality changes and adapts to light in a magical way so every time you can experience the room in a different way. Plus I love telling journalists how De Morgan ended up losing money working on this commission as he had to make extra tiles in order to meet Leighton’s high expectations.”