Leighton House, studio-home of Frederic, Lord Leighton (1830–96), is one of my favourite museums, and always a treat to visit.
Leighton House, studio-home of Frederic, Lord Leighton (1830–96), is one of my favourite museums, and always a treat to visit. This small but informative exhibition about the architect George Aitchison (1825–1910) who built it is a well-timed adjunct to the V&A’s great survey of the Aesthetic Movement, in which he is also included. Leighton House is Aitchison’s monument, for there are few other buildings to his name, apart from imposing warehouses; certainly no churches or country houses.
He built warehouses because he needed to earn a living and was fortunate enough to inherit his father’s post of architect to St Katharine Dock near Tower Bridge (father and son co-designed Ivory House). But Aitchison was no mere cobbler-together of other men’s ideas, and was innovative in his use of an iron skeleton in another Wapping warehouse he built. His studies in Italy (where he met Leighton, who became a good friend) confirmed his love of classical architecture, but also a Renaissance-inspired passion for colour, texture and pattern. These were the qualities which were to distinguish his mature work.
Aitchison regarded himself as an ‘art-architect’, a classification which puts art rather than architecture at the apex of the crafts, and this can be seen in the exquisite watercolours of interior designs he made for exhibition at the Royal Academy. (He was an Academy stalwart, studying there as a student, showing regularly in the Summer Exhibition and returning as professor of architecture, 1887–1905.) The coloured drawings he exhibited were not preparatory or working studies but highly wrought works of art, made presumably for their own sake, and only incidentally as a potent advertisement for his interior-design skills.