Artist-in-residence Clare Burnett's Folded gives public a fresh look at Leighton House Museum

By Culture24 Reporter | 12 December 2011
A photo of a dining table adorned with blue floral sculptures inside a dining hall inside a grand old house
© Clare Burnett/Anne Purkiss
Exhibition: Folded, Leighton House Museum, London, until January 5 2012

The job of artist-in-residence at Leighton House, the magnificent 19th century home of one of the finest painters in British history, might be a slightly intimidating prospect for an artist.

Faced with her new title at Frederic Leighton's Holland Park pad, Clare Burnett took one look at the walls and headed straight off to Turkey. But her departure was all part of the plan.

"I started by looking at the tulip motif which runs through the tiles, fabric and furniture and at the material quality of the tiles," she explains.

"The tulips originated in Iran and Turkey, and travelled west in the bags of European diplomats. I went to Iznik and Istanbul to research both tiles and tulips further."

She ended up in several tile-filled mosques in the Turkish capital, where she found slabs from the Ottoman Empire, layers relating to Christian and Islamic themes, and even British grandfather clocks.

"Like Leighton House, these buildings wrap up their culturally and visually rich interiors," she says, relating their design back to the house's late 19th century extension, the two-storey Arab Hall, which accommodated its incumbents haul of tiles from his sojourns to the Middle East.

"The tiles were made of quartz, which gives them the absorbent quality you feel so strongly in the Hall. It's painted with pigments, mainly cobalt and copper oxide – materials which I use to make my paints – then glazed, again in quartz."

When she returned from a trip she calls "key to the rest of my residency", Burnett decided to concentrate on "the physical qualities of the house" and "the global travel of goods", realising she had become "distracted, or maybe seduced, by the decoration".

Turning to the paintings by the former Royal Academician the House contains, she discovered the gulf between his "design flamboyance and painterly restraint", as well as his "drapery" – the ripples, folds and creases Leighton was consumed by, often being acclaimed as the best of his kind at crafting.

The student of architecture and Renaissance works began crumpling and endlessly contorting paper and boxes she found on the streets, paring them down and then contrasting them with the opulence of the venue, setting colours against darkness, discarded materials against ancient walls and hues and glues against chocolate box decadence.

"At first I thought this residency would just be about how I might work in a historical space, which I had wanted to do for some time.

"But I've been surprised by the way so many themes running through my work have been brought together and made sense of. I want the work to help the visitor see other things in the space."

  • Open 10am-5.30pm (except Tuesday, closed December 25-27, January 1). Admission £5/£3 (includes free readmission for 12 months).

More pictures:

An image of a Renaissance painting of two figures on a stone floor above mountains and seas
Lord Leighton, Greek Girls Playing at Ball© By permission of East Ayrshire Council
A photo of artworks showing paintings of Edwardian women on the wall of a grand ancient house

© Clare Burnett/Anne Purkiss
A photo of three red and orange sculptures inside a contemporary gallery
Unfolded (shown in front of two works from the Wrapped series)© Clare Burnett/Anne Purkiss
A photo of three blue boxes on a pavement on a city street
Street Box Blue© Clare Burnett
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