London’s Leighton House to set to reopen in October, following an £8 million redevelopment, showcasing work by Middle East artists.
Noted for its spectacular Arab Hall and collection of tiles from the Middle East, the Victorian art house on the edge of Holland Park, central London, is the former home of artist and former President of the Royal Academy, Frederic, Lord Leighton.
It has a completely transformed new wing with new exhibition spaces and previously unseen historic features which will be open to the public for the first time.
The new wing includes the museum’s first permanent contemporary commission, Oneness by Iranian artist Shahrzad Ghaffari.
She has painted an 11-metre high mural, which envelopes the curved walls of a new helical staircase across three floors.
Inspired by a 13th-century poem by Rumi exploring cultural unity, its turquoise calligraphic brushstrokes reference the distinctive tiles from the iconic Arab Hall.
A suite of specially commissioned furniture handmade by Syrian artisans based in Jordan's capital Amman is also featured in the new space.
These include marquetry — the craft of applying pieces of veneer to a structure to form decorative patterns — derived from inlaid motifs on a Syrian chest that Leighton acquired on his travels and converted into a seat in the historic house.
They were created in partnership with Turquoise Mountain — a UK charity set up by the Prince Charles to preserve and develop traditional craft practices, originally in Afghanistan, as a means of economic regeneration.
Situated in Kensington, Leighton House is famed for its opulent interiors. Its Arab Hall features mosaic floors and tiles acquired through Leighton’s travels to Turkey, Egypt and Syria.
The project has focused on the 20th-century additions made in the wing at the east end of the original house.
This has been completely refurbished revealing original historic features and creating new exhibition spaces and displays. It also features the De Morgan cafe, which opens on to the redesigned garden, a new learning centre and a collections store.
Designed by architects, engineers and consultants from BDP, the project also sees the recovery and restoration of parts of Leighton’s house lost in changes made in the 20th century.
“This project will have a transformative effect on the museum, allowing it to be accessible to all for the first time, and provide excellent visitor and collection care facilities,” David Artis, architect director at BDP, said.
“This refurbishment supports the museum’s ambitions to safeguard and preserve the integrity of the original house, while meeting the needs of new audiences and cementing it as unique asset for the borough.
“Leighton House is one of London’s great houses and we are very much looking forward to seeing it re-open to the public at a time when such places are needed more than ever.”
The two new gallery spaces will be exhibiting A Life of Drawing: Highlights from the Leighton collection, which will showcase a rarely-seen selection of Lord Leighton’s studies and sketches made in his studio and on his travels, and Artists and Neighbours: the Holland Park Circle, which will feature local artists.
The house will be reopening to the public on October 15.