London's South Kensington is home to three famous world-class museums: the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum. However, many people overlook two small Victorian museums that are tucked away in pretty, tree-lined residential streets in the heart of Kensington. Well worth a visit, the Leighton House Museum and 18 Stafford Terrace (the Linley Sambourne House) are Victorian gems on the east and west sides of Holland Park.
Leighton House Museum
Positioned between the western end of Kensington High Street and Holland Park, the Leighton House Museum gets top marks from its overseer, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, which lauds it as "one of the most remarkable houses of the 19th century" and "the best example of a late 19th century artist's home open to the public in the U.K."
Lord Leighton's collection of approximately 1,000 intricately decorated ceramic tiles from Damascus, Syria, were incorporated into the Arab Hall, adorned with alabaster columns, on the house’s ground floor. Here, Lord Leighton received visitors beside the central fountain under gilded ceilings lined with rich turquoise-colored painted tiles featuring peacocks, a popular Victorian motif. Up the grand staircase, he often placed an easel in a domed skylit room with a north window. These days, this room is used for musical recitals, exhibitions, private receptions and lectures.
Sir Frederic Leighton was a renowned artist who came from a wealthy family and was fascinated by the Middle East. He used this eclectic, opulent villa as both his home and his studio. It was also a palace for his acclaimed paintings and sculpture. His considerable talent won him a place as an associate of the Royal Academy; he was appointed its president in 1878. His 1895 richly colored Pre-Raphaelite oil, "Flaming June," is considered his masterpiece and is widely recognized today. Astonishingly, this classical painting failed to sell for its reserve price of $140 at an auction in the 1960s. It is currently in the permanent collection at the Ponce Museum of Art in Puerto Rico.
Many of the artist's works are on view at Leighton House Museum, 12 Holland Park Road (open 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m., closed on Tuesdays. Admission £5).
18 Stafford Terrace
This blast from the past that will show you how daily life was lived in the late 19th century. One of London's little-known secrets is this well-preserved Victorian town house containing much of its original décor and contents, including ceramics, William Morris wallpapers and stained glass. Number 18 Stafford Terrace in Kensington was the home of a Punch magazine cartoonist of upper middle-class means. Edward Linley Sambourne lived here with his wife, Marion, two children and household staff from 1875.
From the exterior, the white stucco house looks much like its neighbors. Its interiors represent the aesthetic movement of late Victorian days, and the popular use of decorative items from other continents is evident throughout the house.
The Linley Sambourne house is open to the public and conveniently located just a block north of Kensington High Street. It’s five minutes' walk from the Tube or from Holland Park and 10 minutes' walk from the Leighton House Museum. Costumed actresses representing Mrs. Linley Sambourne or her housekeeper give 90-minute tours. Advance booking is required.
by Laurie Jo Miller Farr
Photos: Once a home and artist studio, Sir Frederic Leighton’s Victorian house is now a museum. (Photo by Phillip Perry via Wikimedia Commons)
Frederic Leighton’s painting of Orpheus and Eurydice reflects his interest in classical themes. (Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)
Edward Linley Sambourne, a famous political cartoonist of the Victorian era, is shown here in a self-portrait from 1891 (Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)