Studio Sittings: Photographing Royal Academicians at Leighton House Museum

By Ben Miller | 15 March 2013

Exhibition preview: Studio Sittings: Photographing Royal Academicians, Leighton House Museum, London, until May 12 2013

A black and white photo of a man wearing a female wig and flowery dress in a studio
Grayson Perry© Anne Purkiss
Artist’s studios are, perhaps sensibly, often kept hidden from wider view. In the Victorian times of Frederic, Lord Leighton, they were places of prestige for incumbents capable of commanding celebrity status.

The president of the Royal Academy for 18 years at the end of the 19th century called Leighton House his “private palace of art”, encapsulated by the golden-domed, mosaic-filled Arab hall, where the walls are lined with intricate Islamic tiles.

“It provided the perfect environment,” says Anne Purkiss, discussing the decision to show her photos of Royal Academicians at the Holland Park house. Taken over 25 years they boast a line-up including Dame Elisabeth Frink, Antony Gormley and Grayson Perry.

“This exhibition is special for me. I have been intrigued by the contrast between the public perception of Royal Academy artists and their role in Victorian society, compared to contemporary Academicians today.

“One obvious difference I noticed was the absence of women among the early portraits of Royal Academy artists.

“It is very satisfying to be able to show, with this selection of modern Royal Academicians, that things are beginning to change. The portraits of some highly respected women artists will be on display too.”

A black and white photo of a female artist standing in a studio with her arms open
Barbara Rae© Anne Purkiss
The backdrops are also striking. Brought together for the first time, they take in warehouses, farms, a garden shed, a converted chapel and high-rise blocks of flats.

“The setting for these portraits reflects the variety of studio spaces used or created by contemporary artists,” reflects Daniel Robbins, the Senior Curator for the museum.

“Almost all of them are shown in the context of their studios.

“The portraits here underline how important the studio had become – not just as a space in which to work, but in communicating the image and status of the artist.”

  • Open 10am-5.30pm. Admission £5/£3 (includes re-admission for 12 months). Follow the museum on Twitter @RBKCleightOnH.

More pictures:

A black and white photo of a Victorian male artist standing in his studio in a suit
Marcus Stone© Royal Academy
A black and white photo of a female artist sitting at a table in her studio with a cat
Elizabeth Blackadder© Anne Purkiss
A black and white photo of a male artist examining his easal while wearing a flatcap
David Hockney© Anne Purkiss
A black and white photo of a female artist in a studio surrounded by human figure sculptures
Dame Elisabeth Frink© Anne Purkiss
A photo of a male artist in overalls crouching in front of a large stone sculpture
Antony Gormley© Anne Purkiss
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