Organisers looking for a London venue with strong artistic connections can enjoy the sumptuous surroundings of the Leighton House Museum, in Holland Park Road, just north of Kensington High Street. This is the former studio and home of celebrated Victorian artist and President of the Royal Academy, Frederic Lord Leighton (1830-1896), who was knighted in 1878.
Leighton’s most famous work was Flaming June, which featured a beautiful woman in a transparent orange gown curled up asleep on a marble surround, and for which the model was said to be the strikingly classical-looking actress Dorothy Dene. Before she changed her name and turned to acting Dene was Ada Pullan from Clapham, and working as a head model for a Kensington studio cooperative. She was 19 when the 49 year-old Leighton met her in 1879 and was captivated by her, and she became his favourite model and muse, also rumoured but never proven to be his mistress. Given Leighton’s high position in London society and Dene’s strong cockney accent there was speculation that the relationship was the inspiration for George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion. Another beautiful painting of Dene by Leighton, Crenaia, Nymph of the Dargle, showed her standing full-length and semi-naked, and looking beguilingly demure.
Leighton had a broad interest in art and decoration in all its forms however and the interiors of his house reflect this, with paintings and sculpture by Leighton and his Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood contemporaries – John Everett Millais, Edward Burne-Jones, George Frederick Watts – and Leighton’s dazzling collection of 14th,16th and 17th century Islamic tiles is showcased in the unique 1877 Arab Hall. Upstairs are the Silk Room, Leighton’s huge and airy studio and his tiny and modest bedroom.
Today organisers can stage an intimate meal for up to 16 at Leighton’s dining table in the Dining Room, which includes a show-round the house, and a banquet for 20- 60 in the upstairs Studio. Receptions and cocktail parties for up to 80 guests can be accommodated on the ground floor, including the Arab Hall, and use of the whole building for a reception gives a capacity of up to 150. The Studio can also be used for concerts for up to 100 theatre-style, and has a Sreinway B grand piano for use in situ. Interval drinks can be taken in the Arab Hall and Dining Room, and garden in the summer months. There is a programme of special exhibitions and concerts through the year. From February 12 to May 29 is Pre-Raphaelites on Paper: Victorian Drawings from the Lanigan Collection.
Tel 020 7471 9157 Web leightonhouse.co.uk