Women, beauty, family and love

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The Pérez Simón Collection of Victorian art travels to London

Alma-Tadema, The Roses of Heliogabalus, 1888

Leighton House, once the London home of Lord Leighton, is mounting its most ambitious exhibition since it opened as a museum in 1900. The permanent collection will go into storage to provide space to display 50 Victorian paintings belonging to the Mexican businessman Juan Antonio Pérez Simón.

Pérez Simón, who has long been in business partnership with the telecommunications tycoon and fellow art collector Carlos Slim, has been buying Victorian art since the 1980s, almost entirely at Christie’s and Sotheby’s. He now owns the finest collection outside the UK, and probably the best after those of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Isabel Goldsmith. Pérez Simón says that he was attracted to Victorian artists because they depicted “woman, beauty, eroticism, family and love”. He still collects, and recent acquisitions include Edward Poynter’s Andromeda, 1869, bought at Sotheby’s, London, in 2011.

Generous lender

The JAPS foundation, which runs the Pérez Simón collection, has been a generous lender and its Victorian paintings have recently been shown at the Musée Jacquemart-André, Paris, the Chiostro del Bramante, Rome, and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid. Leighton House will be the last stop on the tour and most of the paintings will then once again hang in Pérez Simón’s main residence in Mexico City.

The London show will bring back four of Lord Leighton’s pictures that he painted in the house: Greek Girls Picking up Pebbles by the Sea, 1871, Crenaia, the Nymph of the Dargle, around 1880, Antigone, 1882, and study for Greek Girls Playing at Ball, 1889. Crenaia depicts his favourite model, Dorothy Dene, who was a frequent visitor to his house and became his lover. Other artists represented in the exhibition include John Everett Millais, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones. There will also be a special focus on Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s study for The Roses of Heliogabalus, 1888.

It is expected that the four-month exhibition, which is sponsored by Strutt & Parker, may attract about 60,000 visitors (compared with 40,000 in a normal year). Leighton House’s senior curator, Daniel Robbins, says that “most of the pictures have not been seen in the UK for a long time and presenting them in Leighton’s home will be something very special.”

Among the loans with personal connections with the house will be Charles Perugini’s But, O, For the Touch of a Vanished Hand, 1896, which was painted a few weeks after the death of Leighton, as a tribute to him. It will hang in Leighton’s bedroom, where he died.

“A Victorian Obsession: the Pérez Simón Collection”, Leighton House, London, 14 November-29 March 2015

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