Thursday, October 26, 2017

Leighton House Museum for Alma-Tadema

We've been meaning to go to Leighton house for years, but it's just far enough out of the way (Holland Park) for there to never be quite enough time to get there when we're in London. D particularly wanted to see the Alma - Tadema At Home in Antiquity exhibition though (has a soft spot for him), and as this is its final week we made the effort.

The exhibition was excellent, I'm not quite the fan that D is; the classical settings that Alma-Tadema is best known for don't particularly excite me, but the chance to evaluate him as an artist did. Something that was really fascinating was seeing how a technically very accomplished artist could still make a real hash of some things - there are figures in some of the paintings which just don't look right. In life and as a group it's also really striking how respectably Victorian his classical ladies look.

The big discovery was that Alma-Tadema's wife and daughters were accomplished painters, and are well represented here. There's something really encouraging about that - they're all part of the same story, he clearly fostered their talents, and the overall impression is of a wonderfully creative and colourful household.

Anothet thing I hadn't really understood is how much Alma - Tadema's vision of the classical world has informed filmmakers either - understandable in the early days (there are clips from films, some of which are roughly contemporary with his life, or from within a couple of years of his death) but somehow surprising when you see how Ridley Scott clearly references him for 'Gladiator'.

Meanwhile Leighton house is amazing. Unfortunately they don't allow photos (which I respect when it comes to other people's pictures, but find frustrating when it applies to architectural details). Built for Leighton and continuously added to throughout his life, it became a museum not long after he died, but had suffered somewhat over the years. A major refurbishment in the last decade has done its best to restore the original decorative scheme. Do a quick search for images, you won't be disappointed.

Leighton, who never married, only ever had one bedroom built (excluding servants quarters in the basement), so the house is mostly spaces for public entertaining, or for working in, with the stars of the show being the Arab hall, and the narcissus hall. Opulent is the word for these. The Arab hall with its gilding, beautiful tiles, fret worked shutters, stained glass, pool, and cushioned recesses for lounging is straight out of the Arabian nights. The glorious blue of the Narcissus hall has tiles the same shade of blue as a stuffed peacock that sits on a pedestal half way up the stairs - next to a sort of built in sofa with the fattest cushions I've ever seen (not only no photos, no sitting either). It's all utterly magnificent - and now we know where it is we'll go back.


  1. I enjoy Alma-Tadema’s work in small doses. I can spend ages with just one of his paintings but more than that and I get image overload. Nevertheless, if you can cope with more than one at a time I can appreciate how interesting a collection this must have been.

  2. I'm much the same, in that a little normally goes a long way, but there was more variety than I expected here, and tracing the evolution of his style from the very Dutch early years through to the images we're more familiar with, seeing how he worked with his family, and seeing it all in the context of Leighton House was really worth while.

  3. How wonderful. I should love to be able to see this exhibition but will have to be content to see it on screen. He was a marvellous artist but I see your point about 'overkill'.

  4. A little can go a long way, but this was the perfect setting for them, and the house is amazing. I'm very glad that I finally got round to going.