"Stop gawping. She's old enough to be your great, great, great-grandmother."
A friend admonishes us for staring a little too lustily at one of the Victorian beauties hanging in the bathroom.
We're at 18 Stafford Terrace in Kensington. It is the former home of Linley Sambourne (1844-1910), a renowned cartoonist and illustrator. The house-museum is full of Victorian treasures, but it is the smallest room that draws the most attention.
Photographs of ladies decorate the walls around the bathtub. Some recline on couches, others pout seductively before mirrors. Most of them have misplaced their clothes.
Sambourne built up a photographic library of poses and postures to help nail his cartoons. He was a pioneer of self-photography, capturing himself in the costumes he would later sketch for magazines like Punch. One of Sambourne's descendants described him as 'grandfather of the selfie'. Here he is:
Costume seems to have been lower down the agenda whenever Sambourne photographed a young, female model. These may have been handy when the artist had to draw classical nymphs or other naked characters but, as the museum's website notes, 'there are far more photos of girls in various stages of undress than were strictly necessary and most of these were never used in his work'.
A selection of the prints are displayed in the bathroom, which doubled as a dark room.
To be clear, Sambourne's photography was in a long tradition of drawing, and later photographing, the female nude. He considered these images to be works of art in their own right. At least that's what he said. It's telling that the nudey photos were always taken during his wife's absence. Ahem.
There are, no doubt, even steamier bathrooms around town, but we just don't get invited to those kinds of parties.
It would be remiss to focus solely on this benuded bathroom, for 18 Stafford Terrace has much else worth seeing. The house is a dazzling example of Victorian over-the-topistry (or 'middle-class aestheticism' as the more-learned might put it).
Each room is a riot of ornament, with William Morris wallpaper and enough framed artworks to pull down flimsier walls.
There is a *lot* of stuff here, much of it unmoved since Sambourne's time.
It's a house full of surprises, even before you reach the bathroom.
The house is now taking bookings for conventional and costumed guided tours from September 2017. Naked, candlelit tours are sadly only available in our imagination.
18 Stafford Terrace, W8 7BH. Nearest tube: Kensington High Street.
Image credits. Vintage photography courtesy of Worcester Museum. Colour photography by Justin Barton for the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.