Mysterious Lord Leighton

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People on scaffolding and ladders hang a large painting

'Clytie' being manoeuvred into place at the gallery

I have always been intrigued by Frederic, Lord Leighton, who is very much an unfathomable figure to me.

A couple of years ago I visited his former London residence, the Leighton House Museum, off London’s Kensington High Street, and was mesmerised.

This amazing villa in Holland Park Road has a room that reminded me of beautiful tiled palaces I had visited in Morocco. In the entrance a photograph shows Leighton gazing at a statue of a naked youth. All around there are hints of what his contemporary Oscar Wilde called “strange sins” – dark corners and sumptuous furniture set in gloomy rooms.

Despite this, bachelor Leighton lived a life that was squeaky clean – it must have been because Queen Victoria ennobled him. Any whiff of scandal and the Royals cast you into outer darkness in those days.

Leighton was the first painter to be given a peerage, in the New Year Honours List of 1896 just days before his death.

When distressed friends and colleagues went over his house they found Clytie – his final great painting – standing unfinished in Leighton’s huge studio.

Now this stunning work is on display at the Lady Lever Art Gallery for a year. This is because Leighton House Museum is closed for a £1.3 million refurbishment until the end of 2009.

Clytie was placed at the head of Leighton’s coffin before being removed to the Royal Academy, where Leighton was president. The painting depicts a heartbroken nymph who, abandoned by her lover Apollo, spends nine days in a wild and isolated place imploring his return and watching him drive his chariot across the sky. 

Clytie joins several other Leighton paintings in the Lady Lever collections including his massive masterwork The Daphnephoria (more of his work can be seen in the Leighton featured artist section). Sharp-eyed visitors will see a tiny study for Clytie nearby in the main hall.

Our picture shows skilled members of the National Museums Liverpool handling team hanging the picture using specialist equipment.

Clytie was acquired by Leighton House this year. Supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund and The Art Fund, the UK’s leading independent art charity.