Wednesday 24 September 2014

The Secret Victorianist at Open House London

The Secret Victorianist at Leighton House
Last weekend, the Secret Victorianist enjoyed Open HouseLondon – two days when hundreds of London’s historic buildings are open to the public for free. The sheer number of properties to choose from is staggering, even when you limit yourself by period, but I avoided the chaos of the city centre and crowds and queues of Whitehall in favour of a civilised Saturday in Kensington. Here I looked around two nineteenth-century properties, important for their contents as well as their former occupants – 18 Stafford Terrace and the Leighton House Museum.

18 Stafford Terrace is a building stuck in time. The servants’ rooms are gone, but otherwise the house is much as it was when it was home to famous Punch cartoonist Edward Linley Sambourne and his wife Marion. The couple moved into the house in 1875 and lovingly furnished it with furniture and ornaments reflective of late nineteenth-century aestheticism. On Saturday a bustling costumed ‘housekeeper’ showed us round the property but unfortunately only two rooms were on display.

Stained glass panel, 18 Stafford Terrace
 Other treasures the house holds which weren’t on show on Open House weekend include Sambourne’s collections of photographs and photography equipment. Working to tight deadlines for his Punch cartoons, photographing people was Linley’s way of cataloguing potential subjects and he used the same technique to plan the sketches for his book illustrations - notably Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies (1863) and Hans Christian Anderson’s Fairy Tales (various). The Sambourne residence is beautiful, fascinating and familial – and well worth another visit on a quieter day.

Edward Linley Sambourne photograph for Little Mermaid illustration

The resulting illustration
 Leighton House on the other hand is grand and spacious –not kitted out like a home, like 18 Stafford Terrace. You enter an extravagant atrium – domed ceilings, Moroccan tiles, a water feature, a rich blue and turquoise colour scheme and even a stuffed peacock - and wander through rooms which are largely empty, except for the impressive collection of paintings – Frederic Leighton’s and some of his contemporaries’ – which lines the walls. A significant portion of the first floor is taken up by Lord Leighton’s incredible studio space – home to much of the art collection and large enough for working on the very biggest canvasses. In comparison to the grand entrance, massive studio and large garden, Leighton’s bedroom is small and plain, furnished much as it would have been at his death in 1896. The museum is a must-see for anyone interested in Victorian art.

Leighton House
 If you find yourself in London for Open House weekend in 2015, you should definitely check it out – the buildings featured range from historic to cutting edge, beautiful to functional, and are dotted throughout the city. And learning more about Edward Linley Sambourne or Frederic Leighton from visiting their houses would make a great day out throughout the year. 

Did you visit any London attractions on Open House weekend? Let me know here, on Facebook or by tweeting @SVictorianist!

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