THERE’S something about a painter’s studio that brings out my inner curtain-twitcher. I want to run my fingers through the piles of paint tubes, rolling the names of the colours around my tongue.
Cadmium orange, Chinese vermillion, permanent violet, rose madder – their exoticism is intoxicating.
I want to flick through the books stacked on shelves, chairs and floorboards for clues to the artist’s inspirations.
To take down every postcard tacked to the wall and read the hidden messages.
It’s odd this compulsion, because I am not usually so nosy. About people’s minds yes, but less so their spaces.
When visiting a friend’s bathroom I do not search the cabinet for unexpected medicine bottles or check behind the toilet rolls for a secreted whisky bottle.
I am respectful of closed doors, unlocked diaries and the backs of wardrobes. I do not pry into shoeboxes.
But in a painter’s studio, I have to suppress the urge to poke about.
Of course I abstain – both out of professionalism and because of the intense training I received as a little girl when walking through the china and glass department of George Henry Lee’s: “Don’t touch, Laura. Tread gently.” Hands deep in pockets, tiptoe and pray the rattling doesn’t grow louder until, phew!, you’re safely in soft furnishings.
A far less self-restrained way of indulging my compulsive curiosity would be to visit the new exhibition at Leighton House Museum, the former London home of Victorian artist Frederic, Lord Leighton.
Opening tomorrow, Studio Sittings: Photographing Royal Academicians is an exhibition of work by portraiturist Anne Purkiss, who has spent the past 25 years taking pictures of members of the Royal Academy of Arts.
No stuffy, Victorian-style portraits these, but images of the artists in their creative spaces – from warehouses, farm buildings and garden sheds to more unusual places such as a room in a high-rise block of flats and a converted chapel.
Those featured include Sir Peter Blake, Antony Gormley, both of whom need no introduction in Merseyside, cross-dressing Turner Prize 2003 winner Grayson Perry, Scottish painter and printmaker Elizabeth Blackadder, sculptor Sir Anthony Caro and Suffolk-born sculptor and printmaker Dame Elisabeth Frink.
Alongside the contemporary photographs will be portraits of Leighton and some of his RA associates. They are also pictured in their studios, demonstrating that the cult of the artist as celebrity was as prevalent in Victorian times as it is today.
In those days, purpose-built studio houses were used as status symbols in these pictures, which were widely published and collected.
If I can prise myself from the incredible number of cultural events taking place in Liverpool over the next few months, including the city’s own many photography exhibitions in the Look 13 festival, I will definitely be making a trip to Leighton House.
But as it’s the only purpose-built studio-house open to the public in the UK, my hands will be buried in my pockets.