Reflecting on Yellow Glass
Attingham Summer School and later with the Victorian Society, both of which organize programs I highly recommend. Central to my studies in these courses was Frederic Leighton’s house. Lord Leighton was one of the great 19th-century painters and his house is a monument to the period taste of the aesethic movement, full of Asiatic wood work and exotic furnishings. The building has beautiful light, particularly the north facing windows of the studio, and most captivating for me, the Arab Hall with its small fountain and the stair hall ceiling partly made of yellow glass.Today is a gray summer day in London, much like many of the summer days I studied here with the
Leighton must have known about the effect of yellow glass from his visits to the Soane Museum, which was established by the architect Sir John Soane and opened in 1836. The museum is not only about the display of artifacts related to architecture, but also about architectural experimentation—the interior is filled with interesting elements such as skylights, mirrors, and stained glass in yellow and other colors. The effects created with yellow glazing are particularly dramatic.
For the first time in a century, many of the features in the Soane house are being restored under the leadership of Tim Knox, the museum’s director and a friend from my summer studies. This restoration was also supported by funds raised through the Sir John Soane’s Museum Foundation based in New York, and furthered by Tim’s handsome new book "Sir John Soane’s Museum London" about the Soane just published last month.
An American example of the use of yellow glazing can be seen at Frederick Church’s house, Olana, in Hudson, New York. Also exotic in form, it features a stair hall bathed in the warm glow produced by yellow paper sandwiched between clear plates of glass.
Incidentally, the use of colored glass and translucent materials for filtering light is an old one. There are Roman and Islamic examples, some of which were the source of influence on Leighton and others of his age who drew on them as inspiration for their work.
In a contemporary vein, I have furthered the use of yellow light via a skylight in my fifth-floor loft. We have lined the collar with yellow mirror that reflects into the loft some of that yellow glow that has appealed to both the ancients and the moderns.
Images from top: Arab Hall and Stair Hall of the Frederic Leighton House (both infused with light from openings filled with colored glass.); enrty hall of Soane House; entry hall of Olana, Hudson, NewYork; views of Thomas Jayne’s loft, detail of skylight framed in yellow glass and its soft glowing effect.