Victorian England and the Middle East

Detail of Leighton's Arab Hall

Detail of Leighton's Arab Hall, Photo by Jenna Frances

In the nineteenth century, Victorian England was granted increased access to the Middle East and North Africa. The combination of colonial conquest and improved transportation encouraged people to travel beyond the predetermined routes of the Grand Tour and explore new cultures. Consequentially, an orientalist vogue swept the nation, influencing painting, architecture, and design. Lounging concubines and turbaned mercenaries became common in nineteenth-century painting. Contemporary British architecture sometimes assimilated aspects of Middle Eastern design, and it became fashionable to collect and display Islamic ornaments in the home.

Several of the artists in J. P. Mayall’s Artists at Homesuch as Francis Dicksee and Valentine Cameron Prinsep, depicted orientalist themes in their work, and many more decorated their homes with oriental rugs and pottery. The most celebrated collector of Middle Eastern art was Sir Frederic Leighton, who traveled in Egypt, Turkey, and Syria amassing ceramics and objets d’art. In 1877, Leighton began a major extension on his already elaborate house, the Arab Hall. This room was built to house his extensive collection of Islamic tile work and pottery and served as an homage to Middle Eastern architecture. This exhibition explores the phenomenon of orientalist design in Victorian England, focusing on the treasures in Leighton’s Arab Hall.

Victorian England and the Middle East