Monday, 7 December 2009

Sir John Soane's Museum

This eclectic and unusual museum in Lincoln's Inn Fields, was the house of Sir John Soane, one of the greatest of English architects.    Soane was born in Berkshire in 1753 and came to London at an early age to study architecture at the Royal Academy.   He travelled extensively in Italy and on his return to England in 1780 became well-known as an architect, in 1788 winning the important commission of designing the Bank of England, as well as the dining rooms of both 10 and 11 Downing Street, Aynho Park in Oxfordshire and Wimpole Hall in Cambridgeshire, among many other fine buildings.

No 12 Lincoln's Inn Fields was his family house, and in 1813 he rebuilt No. 13 as a new home and a museum, adding No. 14 in 1823.   Here he displayed his remarkable collection of art, opening the museum to the public, while refusing to admit visitors in 'wet or dirty weather', something with which we can all sympathise.   Soane died a widower, estranged from and disappointed in his two worthless sons.   Until his death in 1837 he was constantly adding to and rearranging the displays in his museum, and today the rooms remain almost exactly as he left them.

It is hard to describe this extraordinary museum, crammed with works of art of all kinds:  hundreds of paintings, ingeniously displayed on pull-out hinged screens of Soane' own design, drawings, marble sculptures, bronzes, urns and sarcophagi,  furniture, architectural models, something like 7,000 books, all set out apparently higgledy-piggledy in a series of rooms on several floors.   Among the great treasures are the two series of pictures by William Hogarth, A Rake's Progress and An Election (the original paintings which Hogarth displayed in his studio to encourage the sale of sets of engravings), and three stunning Canalettos.

Nowadays they let you in even if it is raining, and admission is free.   It is an unforgettable experience.

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