Thursday, November 13, 2014

A Victorian Obsession: The Pérez Simón Collection at Leighton House Museum

From 14 November 2014, Leighton House Museum will be home to rarely seen masterpieces of Victorian art belonging to the Mexican collector Juan Antonio Pérez Simón. A Victorian Obsession: The Pérez Simón Collection at Leighton House Museum comprises 50 exceptional paintings from the largest Victorian private art collection outside Great Britain, shown for the first time in the UK. Alongside five works by Frederic, Lord Leighton (four of which will be returning to the house in which they were painted) A Victorian Obsession will present paintings which have seldom if ever been exhibited before by many of the most celebrated Victorian artists, illustrating the astonishingly diverse representations of women that characterised this period of British art.

The images range from the domestic to the romantic and from the symbolic to the overtly sensual. The exhibition’s highlights include 

Alma-Tadema’s magnificent The Roses of Heliogabalus (1888),

an iconic image of Roman decadence which has not been exhibited in London since 1913. One of the great paintings of the Victorian era, it memorably depicts the Emperor Heliogabalus’s suffocation of his guests beneath a torrent of rose petals. 

Leighton’s Greek Girls Picking up Pebbles on the Sea Shore (1871) 

is one of his earliest and most striking ‘aesthetic’ works, placing formal harmony above narrative content and showing Leighton as the master of English drapery. 

Two further works, 

Antigone (1882) 

and the sexually charged Crenaia (ca.1880),

 feature the model Dorothy Dene. Leighton’s relationship with Dene was significant in his later years, when her role as his principal model, muse and social companion was widely commented on.

A Quartet, 1868, Albert Moore. Photograph: Studio Sébert Photographes

Outstanding pictures by Albert Moore, John Everett Millais, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward Burne- Jones, John William Waterhouse, Edward Poynter, John Strudwick and John Godward will also be displayed in the intimate and splendid environment of Leighton House. As President of the Royal Academy, Leighton and his extraordinary studio-house were at the centre of the late Victorian art world. His annual concerts and receptions became fixtures of the artistic social calendar. These artists knew the house well and Leighton’s own collection contained pictures by several of them, including a nude study by Albert Moore that will return to Leighton House for the first time since 1896 as part of the exhibition.

The exhibition has been shown at the Jacquemart-André Museum in Paris to great acclaim and is currently on display in Rome at the Chiostro del Bramante. The collection will travel to the Thyssen- Bornemisza in Madrid before arriving in London, where it will be curated by Daniel Robbins, Senior Curator at Leighton House Museum and Véronique Gerard Powell who has worked extensively on the Pérez Simón Collection. With the exception of Leighton’s painting studio, the permanent collections will be cleared from Leighton House and the exhibition hung throughout the historic interiors. Leighton’s extraordinary decorative schemes will provide a uniquely appropriate and authentic setting for the pictures belonging to Juan Antonio Pérez Simón, making the exhibition an unmissable event and an unforgettable one-off aesthetic experience.