The Leighton House Museum in London is a feast for one’s eyes and mind. London home of painter Frederic Leighton (1830–1896), it is the result of his collaboration with architect George Aitchison in order to obtain a combined home and studio, including elaborate Orientalist and aesthetic interiors.

Open to the public since 1929, it has recently undergone major restoration works, which allowed us to interview curator Daniel Robbins, in order to discover more about its contents, current exhibitions and future projects.

I would like to start with the recent restoration and refurbishment process. How would you describe the major changes and what future projects will you be involved in?

Leighton died in 1896 and the house became a museum almost immediately afterwards. After it became a museum, two additions were made to it: one at the end of the 1920s to form a temporary exhibition gallery and one, after the second world war, in order to infill the outdoor space; of course, this is according to the architectural resources of the period. The main project has dealt with repurposing those two additions to take the pressure off the historic fabric and historic house. The 50s piece have been removed entirely and that has revealed parts of the original buildings, now restored into a Café space; while the 20s piece is now where a new reception and orientation is located. At the same time, we have excavated the basement to create the new drawing gallery which displays the other artists who lived very near here, in the neighbouring houses, all of which were built by artists as their studios, in the last quarter of the XIX century. This has allowed us to complete the restoration of the actual house itself and reintegrate two of the rooms which were being used in the past; one being the ticket shop and reception and the second as an annex to the exhibition gallery; the works are now complete.

Do you think the way Leighton House presents itself today allows visitors to enjoy a more comprehensive experience?

Definitely. In fact, your experience as a visitor is much more complete, from the moment you enter the house. All of the interiors that unfold are presented as equivalent as we could to how they were in his days. Another change we made is related to the historic basement, which has been converted into a learning centre where schools and others can undertake different activities.

What we see, today, as visitors is similar to how Leighton used to live? I’m used to comparing to the Vittoriale, which has remained virtually untouched, since the writer's death...

It’s a good connection. However, the initial idea was to preserve it with everything that lived here, but that didn’t work out, so that led to the sale of all of its contents, facing the difficult XX century period when the appreciation of XIX century architecture and art was not as strong as these days. In terms of the collection, for much of the XX century the emphasis was on buying works by Leighton himself and what we have done in the last ten or fifteen years is to try and shift that much more towards re-acquiring pictures which were in his collection and find matches to the furnishings. During lockdown we spent many hours on the Internet, looking for them, trying to be very rigorous in finding items that were proper matches.

I can easily imagine, curating such a superb museum means constantly researching. What surprises have you encountered whilst working for it?

Sure. A few years ago, we found a painting belonging to our collection by French artist Marie Cazanne in the Currier Museum (Manchester New Hampshire, USA). They lent it to us, saying they never exhibited it and, for this reason, they sold it to us for a dollar, eventually. Another piece of the furniture which was definitely part of the original setting of the house was found in Australia, so we brought that back. The plan for the future is to keep going with that process; because the work we did over the last two years made me feel that if we had been really focusing on that, for the last twenty or thirty years, we would have noticed that what passed through the sale rooms was part of the original Leighton collection.

Could you tell us more about the genesis of the current exhibition "Artists and Neighbours: The Holland Park Circle"?

We definitely want to organise more exhibitions like this, about the neighboring artists, focusing on the idea of artists in their studios, Victorian art and architecture as well as more contemporary art of the Islamic world; as a different thread of the program.