Sir John Soane's Museum, London
Sir John Soane (1753- 1837) was an English architect who was known for his neoclassical style. The son of a bricklayer, he rose to the top of his profession, and became Professor of Architecture at the Royal Academy and an official architect to the Office of Works in London. He received a knighthood in 1831.
His best-known work was the Bank of England, a building which had a widespread effect on commercial architecture. He also designed Dulwich Picture Gallery, which, with its top-lit galleries, was a major influence on the planning of subsequent art galleries and museums.
The museum is located in Holborn, at Lincoln Inn’s Fields and was Soane’s own home. He originally lived at no 12, which he bought c.1792 and then after he was appointed Professor of Architecture in 1806 he bought no. 13, next door, which he rebuilt it in two phases. In 1823 he purchased the third house, no. 14. Whilst living at no. 13 he set up his own work studio and spent many years re-modelling the house.
In 1833 he negotiated an Act of Parliament to preserve the house and collection after his death for the benefit of ‘amateurs and students’ in architecture, painting and sculpture. This step was necessary because Soane did not get on with his son, George, who had written to the papers denouncing his father as ‘a cheat, a charlatan and
a copyist’. Since under contemporary inheritance law George would have been able to lay claim to Sir John’s property on his death, to solve his debt problems, the Soane Museum Act was passed which stipulated that on Soane’s death his house and collection would be preserved for the benefit of the nation, looked after by a Board of Trustees.
Today, Sir John Soane’s Museum is one of the country’s most unusual museums with a continuing and developing commitment to education and creative inspiration. As well as boasting a fine architectural collection, it also houses Soane’s Egyptian artefacts (including an alabaster sarcophagus of Seti I, which was discovered by Giovanni Battista Belzoni), as well as Greek, Roman and Medieval pieces. In September 2016 the museum concluded a seven-year programme of restoration which has fully returned this unique Georgian house and museum to the original design of its founder. In January 2017, the museum has used the latest in 3D scanning technology to create a perfect online digital replica. Now visitors can virtually discover key rooms from the Museum, and learn more about a number of objects from the collection. This year also sees the first contemporary art exhibition, Marc Quinn:
Drawn from Life, at the museum. The exhibition is part of a new programme to build upon the ethos and values of its founder. Soane wanted his collection to inspire creativity and curiosity and Quinn has long been inspired by Sir John Soane’s collection of historic fragments.
Above, left: The exterior of the John Soane Museum
Above, right: The newly opened up Catacombs room in the museum
Left: Sir John Soane
(Images Courtesy of Sir John Soane’s Museum. Photos: Gareth Gardner)
Right, from top: The museum as a 3D scan; The sarcophagus of Seti I lit by candle light; The painting gallery