At the weekend I saw Lord Leighton’s House, which I would like to move into immediately. Could there be a house more perfectly designed for entertainment? From the middle-eastern souk that dominates the ground floor to the vast studio above with ample space for dancing, and piano on a stage, accompanied by endless cushion filled alcoves and wide sills, everything demands an audience – or a cast. Only the bedroom was disappointing; sleeping was clearly too mundane and unworthy of Leighton’s exotic and sumptuous tastes. Or perhaps sensibly he just wanted a good rest from time to time, and admittedly the pale blue Morris wallpaper is a peaceful choice after swamp-green silk and turquoise tiles.
These tiles were designed by William de Morgan (in his ‘Persian style’), and I visited the foundation dedicated to him the next day. The stylised animals were a joy, particularly the squirrels with vicious teeth. Iznik patterns mixed together with creatures who appear to have escaped from English folklore – via the Pre-Raphaelite imagination – works very well I think. (Would look good behind an Aga. NO!, no, Wandsworth is creeping back into my consciousness… behind a divan draped in silk, obviously, in my Mediterranean villa.)
These glorious ceramics were shown alongside Evelyn de Morgan’s paintings. These were very accomplished, though some verged on the chocolate-box rim of Pre-Raphaelitism – a few too heavily moralistic and sentimental, with a few too may rainbow pastel shades and faces of pious porcelain beauty. I spent longer in front of the scenes of witch-like women brewing ‘love’ potions, whose faces expressed more character – even if this was mostly of a bitter and malevolent sort. In the case of Queen Eleanor, on her way to poison Fair Rosamond, an angular profile and thin lips was not enough – her evil intent is driven home by ghostly flying snakes and monkeys, which pursue the ethereal forms of small cherubs and doves, leaving several crying on the floor. A poor effort by Rosamond I thought – or rather a poor choice of ‘daemons’.
Anyway, all this Pre-Raphaelite decadence and melodrama has whetted my appetite for the Tate’s blockbuster… (to be continued)