In 1901, Merton gave his wife Annie a dream home on a cliff-top overlooking the sea. It was an extraordinary, extravagant birthday present – lavish, splendid and with a touch fantasy.
They filled this exotic seaside villa with beautiful objects from their travels across the world and lined the walls with a remarkable collection of British art creating a unique atmosphere in a most dramatic seafront setting. A home, an art gallery and a museum. Then, they sealed it in time and gave it to the future. The house – beside the sea on Bournemouth’s East Cliff – celebrated the couple’s passion for art and travel, world cultures and natural history.
The main hall is hung floor-to-ceiling with the famous paintings of their day – a remarkable collection of high Victorian and Pre-Raphaelite art, including many works by women artists. Rooms and collections are inspired by their travels – to Japan, Russia, Australia and New Zealand – and by their love of the theatre and the decorative arts. The decor is sumptuous; rich colours, stained glass, luxurious wallpaper, painted ceilings, frescoes and patterned floor tiles. The views are stunning and the cliff-top garden is serene. Four galleries, added in the early 20th century, are used for exhibitions and events and a modern wing showcases the world-renowned Japanese collection.
Merton’s extravagant gift is now one of Bournemouth’s most intriguing visitor attractions. There is also an on-site café and shop.
Open Tuesday – Sunday 10am – 5pm. Find out more at russellcotes.com.