Admiring a Victorian Gentlemen’s London Style at the Leighton House Museum

For centuries, the royal Borough of Kensington was a London hotspot for successful artists, musicians and thinkers. While it remains an address for the affluent to this very day, many of the residences that housed some of history’s most talented Londoners are now historic homes and museums.

One of the longest standing and still active museums in the area is Leighton House. Tucked away a short walk from Kensington Palace and the High Street Kensington London Underground station, the personal residence of the great Victorian portrait artist Lord Frederick Leighton was a museum during the artist’s life and remained so after his death.

Born into a wealthy family, Leighton had the best education and the advantage of family financial support as he studied art. However, his parents forbade him from becoming a professional artist unless he was sure to become imminent in the field. That challenge drove him much of his life as he balanced a highly successful career as a painter against assuming a high ranking role in Victorian British society.

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At the height of his popularity, just one of Leighton’s commissions would fetch the equivalent of a London working man’s yearly salary. To announce his success to the world — and to affix his status as a city center for art and culture, Leighton built his home in Kensington and filled with his own art and treasures from throughout Europe and Asia. His personal residence became a museum where the artist would welcome the rich, the powerful and the denizens of London’s art scene.

To the eyes of a 21st century man, Leighton’s house is the modern equivalent of forward thinking style. As a man of means, he sought both to assure his own comfort and to announce his prominence to the world. There’s some flaunting to the Leighton House – some peacocking. But, there’s also a sense of responsibility as Leighton always intended his home to be a public resource for art and culture.

Several pieces of Leighton’s finished work, including drawings that demonstrate his process, decorate the house. His master work, the iconic Flaming June, resides in Puerto Rico as “The Mona Lisa of the Southern Hemisphere.” 

An expanse at the rear of the house includes an original exhibition space the hosts social exhibits of contemporary artists from around the world. The current show (above, bottom) is Seven Halts on the Somme, a WWI memorial collection of paintings by Hughie O’Donoghue, RA.

Photos by John Scott Lewinski, courtesy of Leighton House Museum