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Sir John Soane’s Museum

Sir John Soane’s Museum

Sir John Soane’s Museum: ‘A crazy labyrinth of art, architecture and history’
Sir John Soane’s Museum

1837 185 years ago
45,000 objects, approx. 30,000 architectural drawings
Visitors 107, 903
Public transit access

Sir John Soane’s Museum is a house museum, located next to Lincoln’s Inn Fields in Holborn, London, which was formerly the home of neo-classical architect, John Soane. It holds many drawings and architectural models of Soane’s projects, and a large collection of paintings, sculptures, drawings and antiquities that he acquired over many years. The museum was established during Soane’s own lifetime by a Private Act of Parliament in 1833, which took effect on his death in 1837. Soane engaged in this lengthy parliamentary campaign in order to disinherit his son, whom he disliked intensely. The act stipulated that on Soane’s death his house and collections would pass into the care of a Board of Trustees, acting on behalf of the nation, and that they would be preserved as nearly as possible exactly in the state they were at his death. The museum’s trustees remained completely independent, relying only on Soane’s original endowment, until 1947. Since then, the museum has received an annual Grant-in-Aid from the British Government via the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

Tell Me Something I Dont Know

The Bank of England might be Soanes best-known architectural work, but he also designed Dulwich Picture Gallery, which opened in 1817 the first ever purpose-built public art gallery in England. It heavily influenced designs of future museums and galleries.

Sir John Soanes Museum was a finalist for Art Fund Museum of the Year 2017.

The Model Room And Soanes Grand Prize

One of Sir John Soanes final additions to this small London museum before his death was the Model Room in the museums Private Apartments. It contains cork and plaster architectural models of some of the most famous monuments of the ancient world, almost a Grand Tour in miniature.

The temples and monuments were seen by Soane on his Grand Tour of Europe, then considered a rite of passage among British elite. Soane financed the tour with the prize he had won, at age 23, from the Royal Academy for his design of a Classical Triumphal Bridge. You can view the Model Room only on the museums Highlights and Private Apartments Tour or on one of the volunteer-led Apartments Tours.

The biggest prize in Soanes home, however, is in the basement, which he designed to have the atmosphere of a Roman burial chamber. Ironically, though, the large sarcophagus it contains is not that of a Roman, but of an Egyptian, King Seti who lived about 1300 BC. Sir John purchased the treasure after the British Museum turned it down, believing the £2,000 price was too high. When he was finally able to bring it to his house he celebrated the occasion with three evening parties to which nearly 1,000 people were invited.

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Antiquiteiten Uit De Klassieke Oudheid

Breakfast RoomsarcofaagSeti IBelzoni Chamber

Een van de pronkstukken van Soane’s collectie is de albastensarcofaag van Seti I, een farao van de 19e dynastie van het oude Egypte en de zoon van Ramses I. Nadat deze sarcofaag in maart 1825 in de kelder van het pand op nummer 13 werd geplaatst, hield Soane een feest dat drie dagen duurde en waarbij 890 mensen waren uitgenodigd. De ruimte waar de sarcofaag stond werd door Soane toepasselijk de genoemd en werd tijdens het feest verlicht door ruim honderd lampen en kandelabers en ook de voorgevel was met lampen versierd. Op de gastenlijst stonden onder anderen premier Robert Jenkinson, Robert Peel, Prins , de baron Charles Long van Farnborough, de dichter Samuel Taylor Coleridge en de kunstschilders William Turner, Sir Thomas Lawrence en Benjamin Haydon. De wordt ook wel de Belzoni Chamber genoemd, naar Giovanni Battista Belzoni, de ontdekker van het graf van Seti I.

Een ander pronkstuk uit de collectie is een verkleinde kopie van de Diana van Artemis. In de bibliotheek zijn urnen, Oud-Griekse vazen, fragmenten van Romeinse mozaïeken en bronzen beelden uit het oude Griekenland en Rome te zien. Verder bevat de collectie Romeins glas, Griekse en Romeinse bustes en hoofden afkomstig van oude standbeelden. Toen Soane’s leraar, de architect Henry Holland stierf, kocht Soane een groot deel van Holland’s collectie oude marmeren fragmenten van architectonische decoraties op.

Soanes House And Museum

Sir John Soane

Soane developed his house by demolishing and rebuilding three houses in succession on the north side of Lincolns Inn Fields.

He began with No. 12, between 1792 and 1794, which externally was a plain brick house. In 1806, Soane purchased No. 13, the house next door, which today is the museum, and rebuilt.

In 180809, Soane constructed his drawing office and museum on the site of the former stable block at the back.

In 1812 he rebuilt the front part of the site, adding a projecting Portland Stone façade to the basement, ground and first floor levels, and the center bay of the second floor.

After completing No.13, Soane set about treating the building as an architectural laboratory, continually remodeling the interiors.

In 1823, when he was over 70, he purchased a third house, No. 14, which he rebuilt in 182324. This project allowed him to build a picture gallery, linked to No.13, on the former stable block of No. 14.

The front central part of this third house was treated as a separate dwelling and let as an investment it was not internally connected to the other buildings.

When he died, No. 14 was bequeathed to his family and passed out of the museums ownership.

View in Venice, on the Grand Canal by Canaletto, 1734 1735

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Caruso St John Architects

London, United Kingdom20092012

Client: Sir John Soane’s MuseumGrade I listed

The interiors of Sir John Soanes Museum are characterised by an engaging variety of objects, furniture, and space. Caruso St John worked on the design of furniture within the restored interiors of four rooms in No. 12, the house forming the left side of the museum in Lincolns Inn Fields. The project made new exhibition galleries on the first floor, and an interpretation gallery, entrance facilities and a shop at the ground floor.

Soanes genius is as much about a splendid organisation of light and space, as it is about a connoisseurs eye for precious objects and an ability to bring seemingly disparate things together. Caruso St Johns work is intended to provide a seamless mediation between drawings, objects, interpretation, merchandise, and the room. The new furniture, cabinets and linings required to furnish these rooms, are brought into a balance with their specific positions within the narrative of the Museum, with the material detail of the restored rooms, and finally with their use. The interventions are intended to have the lightness and wit that characterise the rest of the Museum.

What Should I See

Part of the joy of the house is finding your own favourites, but look out for one of the collection’s most famous highlights: William Hogarths epic, eight-part painting A Rakes Progress , which depicts the rise and fall of the fictional Tom Rakewell.

Another unmissable exhibit is an enormous, 3,500-year-old alabaster sarcophagus, found in the Egyptian king Setis tomb in 1812 and considered one of the most important objects ever discovered in Egypt.

Finally, you can see one of Soanes personal favourites in the Library-Dining Room. The Snake in the Grass by Joshua Reynolds who presented a young Soane with the Royal Academys Gold Medal for Architecture is displayed opposite Soanes own portrait, indicating the paintings significance.

Remarkably, its still in its original frame in 2018 the museum ran a successful crowdfunding campaign through Art Happens to raise the money needed to repair and conserve it.

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A Private Act Of Parliament

The museum was established during Soanes lifetime by a Private Act of Parliament in 1833, which took effect on Soanes death in 1837.

The Act of Parliament was necessary because Sir John had a living direct male heir, his son George, with whom he had had a lifelong feud due to Georges debts, refusal to engage in a trade, and his marriage, of which Sir John disapproved.

His son also wrote an anonymous article for the Sunday papers about Sir John, which was highly defamatory.

Since under inheritance law, George would have been able to lay claim to Sir Johns property on his death, Sir John engaged in a lengthy parliamentary campaign to disinherit his son via a private Act.

The Soane Museum Act was passed in April 1833 and stipulated that on Soanes death, his house and collections would move into the care of a Board of Trustees, on behalf of the nation.

The Act required that No. 13 be maintained as nearly as possible as it was left at the time of Soanes death, and that has mostly been done.

During 1890 the rear rooms of No. 12 were connected to the museum in No. 13. and since 1995, the Soane Gallery for temporary exhibitions was established.

The museums trustees remained utterly independent, relying only on Soanes original endowment, until 1947. After 1947, the museum has been receiving an annual Grant-in-Aid from the British Government.

The Murder of Aristobulus III, miniature taken from an edition of Jewish Antiquities and Jewish War by Flavius Josephus

Antiquities Medieval And Non

Sir John Soane’s Museum – London UK

As his practice prospered, Soane was able to collect objects worthy of the British Museum, including the Sarcophagus of Seti I, covered in Egyptian hieroglyphs, discovered by Giovanni Battista Belzoni, bought on 12 May 1824 for £2000 Soane’s most expensive art work.

After the Seti sarcophagus arrived at his house in March 1825, Soane held a three-day party, to which 890 people were invited, the basement where the sarcophagus was housed was lit by over one hundred lamps and candelabra, refreshments were laid on and the exterior of the house was hung with lamps. Among the guests were the then Prime Minister Robert Jenkinson, 2nd Earl of Liverpool and his wife, Robert Peel, Prince Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, J.M.W. Turner, Sir Thomas Lawrence, Charles Long, 1st Baron Farnborough, Benjamin Haydon as well as many foreign dignitaries.

Other antiquities include: Greek and Roman bronzes including ones from Pompeii, cinerary urns, fragments of Roman mosaics, Greek vases many displayed above the bookcases in the library, Greek and Roman busts, heads from statues and fragments of sculpture and architectural decoration, examples of Roman glass.

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Legal Creation Of The Museum

In 1833, he obtained an Act of Parliament, sponsored by Joseph Hume to bequeath the house and collection to the British Nation to be made into a museum of architecture, now the Sir John Soane’s Museum.George Soane, realising that if the museum was set up he would lose his inheritance, persuaded William Cobbett to try and stop the bill, but failed.

Secrets Of Sir John Soane’s Museum

Sir John Soane was perhaps Britain’s most famous neoclassical architect: he was the man who built the Bank of England and the Dulwich Picture Gallery. He was also an unstoppable collector who amassed thousands of objects from across the planet, proudly showing them off in his own home on Lincolns Inn Fields.

That collection remains one of Londons richest, most eccentric treasure-troves, in the form of Sir John Soane’s Museum. Its coming to the end of a major restoration project, making this a very exciting time to visit.

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Not Exactly How Soane Left It

An attempted robbery in February 1987 was foiled when police staking out the premises were able to combat an armed gang who gained entry. A filled-in bullet hole in the entrance to the building bears witness to the drama, in which the gangleader was shot dead.

Discover more secrets of Sir John Soanes Museum at 13 Lincolns Inn Fields, London, WC2A 3BP. Its free to visit, and open Wednesday-Sunday, 10am-5pm. Last entry 4.30pm.

Awards Official Posts And Recognition

bensozia: Sir John Soane
  • On 10 December 1772 Soane was awarded the Royal Academy’s Silver Medal.
  • On 10 December 1776 Soane was awarded the Royal Academy’s Gold Medal.
  • On 10 December 1777 Soane was awarded the Royal Academy’s travelling scholarship.
  • On 16 October 1788 Soane was appointed architect to the Bank of England
  • On 2 November 1795 Soane was elected an Associate Royal Academician.

On 24 June 1781 Soane leased rooms on the first floor of 53 Margaret Street, Westminster, for £40 per annum. It was here he would live for the first few years of his married life and where all his children would be born. In July 1783 he bought a grey that he stabled nearby. On 10 January 1784 Soane took a Miss Elizabeth Smith to the theatre, then on 7 February she took tea with Soane and friends, and they began attending plays and concerts together regularly. She was the niece and ward of a London builder George Wyatt, whom Soane would have known as he rebuilt Newgate Prison. They married on 21 August 1784 at Christ Church, Southwark. He always called his wife Eliza, and she would become his confidante.

Their first child John was born on 29 April 1786. His second son George was born just before Christmas 1787 but the boy died just six months later. The third son, also called George, was born on 28 September 1789, and their final son Henry was born on 10 October 1790 but died the following year from Pertussis.

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Struggle To Establish Architectural Practice

He reached England in June 1780, thanks to his Grand Tour he was £120 in debt. After a brief stop in London, Soane headed for Frederick Augustus Hervey, 4th Earl of Bristol’s estate at Ickworth House in Suffolk, where the Earl was planning to build a new house. But immediately the Earl changed his mind and dispatched Soane to Downhill House, in County Londonderry, Ireland, where Soane arrived on 27 July 1780. The Earl had grandiose plans to rebuild the house, but Soane and the Earl disagreed over the design and parted company, Soane receiving only £30 for his efforts. He left via Belfast sailing to Glasgow. From Glasgow he travelled to Allanbank, Scottish Borders, home of a family by the name of Stuart he had met in Rome, he prepared plans for a new mansion for the family, but again the commission came to nothing. In early December 1780 Soane took lodgings at 10 Cavendish Street, London. To pay his way his friends from the Grand Tour, Thomas Pitt and Philip Yorke, gave him commissions for repairs and minor alterations. Anna, Lady Miller, considered building a temple in her garden at Batheaston to Soane’s design and he hoped he might receive work from her circle of friends. But again this was not to be. To help him out, George Dance gave Soane a few measuring jobs, including one in May 1781 on his repairs to Newgate Prison of damage caused by the Gordon Riots.

Other Ways To Exploretop

Highlights Tour

The classic tour of the Museum, our Highlights Tour will transport you back to Regency London, taking you through Sir John Soane’s extraordinary home, left as it was at the time of his death in 1837. The tour visits the Museum’s main highlights and ventures into the Private Apartments.

Highlights Films

You can also explore the Museum from home using our new Highlights Film. The Highlights Film takes you on a tour through the most special spaces and objects in the Museum, and costs £8.

Order your Highlights Film today

Bloomberg Connects – your free digital guide to the Museum

Discover the stories behind the Soane Museum with our new guide on the free Bloomberg Connects app. Bloomberg Connects, a free digital guide to cultural organizations, makes it easy to access and engage with arts and culture. Unique and exclusive multimedia guides, commentary from experts, and virtual activities offer insights into exhibitions and collections.

If you are using the app whilst visiting the Museum, we ask that you wear headphones whilst playing audio and video.

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Works Ongoing At The Soanetop

From 10 January 2022, the Museum will start work on the restoration of John Soanes architectural drawing office, at the back of the house. This will mean a minor change to the visitor route while a staircase down to the basement is closed, from January to April 2022. Some objects will be removed or covered in the Colonnade area and the casts that hang in the Office itself will be taken down for conservation and reinstalled in January 2023. The Drawing Office itself is not on the visitor route and we expect there to be minimal disruption to the visitor experience but please do get in touch if you have any questions about access or the collection during the works.

Due to the potential risks posed by adjacent building works, the planes in the Picture Room will not be opened for visitors until the works conclude at the beginning of May 2022. We continue to open the planes on pre-booked guided tours.

Architectural Drawings And Architectural Models

Sir John Soane’s Museum: Art Fund Museum of the Year 2017 finalist

There are over 30,000 architectural drawings in the collection. Of Soane’s drawings of his own designs , covering his entire career, most are bound in 37 volumes, 97 are framed on the museum walls, and the rest are 601 covering the Bank of England, 6,266 of his other works, and 1,080 prepared for the Royal Academy lectures.

The 252 architectural models in the collection are: 118 of Soane’s own buildings including 44 of the Bank of England, covering details, façades, rooms as well as complete buildings, models of ancient Roman and Greek buildings, 20 made from plaster and 14 of cork. There are in addition 100 models of architectural details and ornaments. The 20 plaster models are the work of Jean-Pierre Fouquet of Paris and were acquired by Soane in 1834 for £100, these include: Erechtheion, Tower of the Winds, Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, Pantheon, Rome, Temple of Vesta, Tivoli, Temple of Antoninus and Faustina and the Temple of Portunus, the buildings are depicted as reconstructions not in their current ruined state.

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