Alma-Tadema at Leighton House – and the Design Museum

A day out in London. First ever visit to the lovely Leighton House in Kensington to see an Alma-Tadema exhibition, and a less satisfactory experience at the Design Museum in what used to be the Commonwealth Institute.

       As its name implies, Leighton House is the former home of the painter, Lord Frederick Leighton. Architecturally, it is a fine example of over-the-top Victorian oriental romanticism – an Indo/Moorish mixture with lots of beautiful Iznik tiles. No photos were allowed in the house – I sneaked a few, but most of these come from the internet.

     Lawrence Alma-Tadema was a frequent visitor to Leighton House, and must have appreciated the exotic décor.  It was a very apt setting for the exhibition, which was excellent. His paintings are still unfashionable – the popular image of them is of wispy air-brushed nudes in classical settings, but they are more than that. I remember some of the big narrative paintings from my childhood – I used to love poring over the details in the likes of this:  The finding of Moses…

How come they had all those delphiniums growing on the banks of the Nile?  I read that in 2010, this painting was sold for £22 million in New York.  Never mind the delphiniums, you can’t help but notice that despite the classical settings, the people in Alma-Tadema’s paintings are very Victorian English.  He painted mostly at home in his studio, using his own surroundings with material collected on his travels in Europe and the Middle East.
     I like these two paintings also:

      Battleaxe would recommend both the house and the exhibition.
      After, for a complete change, we walked up the road to what used to be the Commonwealth Institute, now the Design Museum. I used to go there with my Dad when my mother was at dog shows at Olympia. I remember it was an amazing building and had a nice café, but nothing whatsoever about what was in the place, or what the Commonwealth Institute was supposed to be about.

         Well, it is still an amazing building.
          I was looking forward to it – Battleaxe really likes modern design… don’t think she’s some fuddy-duddy more at home with Victoriana. One’s home is mid-century modern….
          First, we went to the downstairs café. £10 worth of totally tasteless salad precariously piled onto a too-small cardboard plate, to be eaten with a flimsy plastic knife and fork. I had to surround my plate with napkins as the food fell over the edge when I tried to eat it. Tepid tap water in equally flimsy plastic tumbler. They had an aperture called ‘rubbish’ where you were supposed to put your stuff, but the plate things wouldn’t fit into it, making for mess all over the nice white surfaces….  Grrr.
           Then we went upstairs to the permanent exhibition.’Designer, Maker, User’. Now, dear readers, remember this is a design museum. The exhibition was supposed to be about twentieth century design, designed by, presumably, some of the best cutting-edge designers around.  It was an over-curated, confusing, fussy, bitty hotchpotch mess that made the head ache…. We exited half way through without seeing all of it. It said on the blurb that a tour of the exhibition was supposed to take an hour – more like 10 minutes to avoid threat of epileptic fit from flashing screens.
            There were some more temporary exhibitions but we couldn’t face any more. 

     Instead, we went to the shop. My dears……
      Here are a few things….

Tiny….. and expensive
Little wooden iPhone – quite sweet for £14.
Grate your own Himalayan pink salt – the most up-itself thing ever – for £25

Sorry, Battleaxe does not recommend the Design Museum. It should be really interesting but has sadly gone up itself…..

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