On the morning of our fourth day in London Greg and I walked around to the Leighton House Museum in Holland Park, only a couple of blocks from our flat. In the afternoon we went to the National Gallery.
Leighton House Museum is the former home of the Victorian artist Frederic, Lord Leighton (1830-1896), best known for his ‘Flaming June‘. Leighton was a most successful painter, popular and wealthy. Unusually for the period, he lived alone, unmarried, and with no children, and as a consequence free to decorate it entirely to his own taste. Leighton’s house, which includes a large studio, was itself a work of art and a showcase and advertisement for his talents. The interior was inspired by his travels. The design of the Arab Hall, for example, which has a fountain and a golden dome, is based on a palace in Palermo. It uses tiles he collected from Turkey and lattice-work windows from Damascus. G.K. Chesterton is supposedly responsible for the phrase ‘vulgar without being funny’; Leighton’s high-Victorian excess seems quite over the top without actually being kitch.
We travelled to the National Gallery by bus, through streets jammed with traffic, getting off at Pall Mall to walk when we noticed that pedestrians were going faster.
We had a terrific afternoon at the Gallery. Some paintings, famous and familiar, we were seeing for the first time in the original; there also seemed to be no end of marvellous works we had never seen before. For a while we followed a guided tour, well worth it, even though at times it was hard to agree completely with the guide’s interpretation.
Let’s hope the pandemic is soon over and we can go back.