Decoration of Arab Hall, Leighton House

The exterior of Leighton House has been fairly described in the contemporary literature as having 'individuality, rather than distinction'. However, inside by way of contrast, as well as Leighton's own superb picture collection, the main downstairs room was the exotic Arab Hall.

Leighton himself had conceived the Arab Hall and the lighting of his house, being inspired by a Saracen palace at Palermo called 'La Zisa', and selected his friend George Aitchison (later Prof. of Architecture at the Royal Academy), to build it for him. The Arab Hall was begun in 1877, virtually completed in 1879, and finished in 1881. As well as Aitchison's designs, several leading artists contributed to the decorations:

Marble columns in angle recess, caps of alabaster designed by Aitchison and modelled by the sculptor J. E. Boehm;

Large columns with caps of stone, birds modelled by Caldecott, the illustrator;

Mosaic floor designed by Aitchison, executed by Messrs Burke and Co;

Chandelier by Aitchison;

Masaic friezes by Walter Crane - the latter had particularly wanted to include Sirens in the composition, but these were dismissed by Leighton as 'duck women';

Other tilework by William de Morgan.

Leighton also intended to 'let Walter Crane and Burne-Jones loose on the dome' of the Arab Hall, but this never happened.

The beautiful antique peacock tiles were personally collected by Leighton over many years during visits to Damascus, Cairo and Rhodes, and the latticework to the windows and gallery were also antiques from Damascus. A wide variety of marbles and other stones were used for the various columns, the supplier being one of the many architectural sculptors of Vauxhall Bridge Road, White and Son.

Upstairs, the principal room is of course the Studio, about 60 ft long and equally generous in its other proportions, and with a gilt dome at one end. A cast of part of the Parthenon Frieze runs around the upper part of the walls.

The house has been restored as closely as possible to the original look, though looking at contemporary photos and drawings, it is clear that quite a lot moved around during Leighton's lifetime, as one would expect. Many of Leighton's own sketches, and pictures which he obtained by exchange with other artists, are on the walls. However, a lot was sold on his death, including works by Constable, notable French paintings, and old master paintings from his collection.

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Victorian art in London // Lord Leighton

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