Journal Article

Leighton’s House: Art In and Beyond the Studio

Martina Droth

in Journal of Design History

Published on behalf of Design History Society

Volume 24, issue 4, pages 339-358
Published in print December 2011 | ISSN: 0952-4649
Published online December 2011 | e-ISSN: 1741-7279 | DOI:
Leighton’s House: Art In and Beyond the Studio

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The home of the artist Frederic Leighton, begun in 1864 and from then a lifetime preoccupation for the artist and his architect, George Aitchison, was among the most famous studio-houses built in West London in the late nineteenth century, and the only one to remain today as a museum. But Leighton’s home did not so much survive as an original artefact as become reconstructed in the image of one. Not only were its original decorative schemes almost entirely lost in the decades after Leighton’s death, the dispersal of the contents means that a mere fraction of the works of art once in Leighton’s collection, and almost none of the furnishings, artefacts and antiques remain. The Museum, recently reopened after major refurbishments, has attempted to recover the look and feel of the original interiors, but it nevertheless presents a greatly stripped-down version of the house as it was once occupied. This article asks what the Museum can really tell us about Leighton; it argues that, while drawing attention to Leighton as an important art world figure, the existence of the house has also obscured his artistic identity. Seen as a place for entertainment and social activity, the role of the studio-house as a creative site of artistic production, and its special contribution to the image of Leighton as an artist, has been all but lost. This article returns to perceptions of Leighton’s house during his lifetime, showing that it was Leighton’s practice that determined the agenda for the public eye, his studio appearing not as a corollary of Leighton’s social position, but as the creative centre of the artist’s world. The article examines how that image was constructed, and what it was intended to convey about Leighton’s art.

Keywords: artist’s studio; art practice; interior decoration; Leighton, Frederic; museums; nineteenth century

Journal Article.  8977 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Art ; Art Forms ; Industrial and Commercial Art ; Art Styles

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