11.24.2009

Soane House Proud

Amazing to note that the typical-looking dun-colored London townhouse is...light tan under 200 years of soot


The Dome (above and belowe) with plaster cast of Apollo Belvedere
The Picture Room houses Hogarth's A Rake's Progress
series

Library

Soane Museum Director Tim Knox with mummified cats
(From what I've seen in World of Interiors magazine Knox's own house is phenomenal)

Study

The Breakfast Room.

One of Soane's architectural devices— a shallow dome used on his mausoleum among other structures, which Soane preferred to call a canopy— is the inspiration for London's iconic telephone booth.

The Dulwich Picture Gallery
designed by Soane and opened to the public in 1817 as the first public art gallery in Britain



Time was when Sir John Soane's Museum, the late 18th/early 19th century architect and collector's house in London's Lincoln's Inn Fields, used to be a fairly sleepy, almost secret, destination. A longtime favorite of mine, it's sort of a museum-goers museum. One could go for the house tour, or for the architecture of the house, the art in the collection, or for the manner in which the art was displayed... the museum offers layers of experience.

The "secret" out; there is now a coffee table book (which I just got*), a new
"Historical and Sustainable Architecture Masters Program" offered by NYU in conjunction with the Museum, and a £6 million "Opening up the Soane" renovation project, launched to return the Museum back to the original design. The Soane is definitely having its moment in the limelight.

John Soane, the son of a bricklayer, trained under George Dance the Younger (one of the earliest Neo-Classicists) before entering the Royal Academy. In 1778 he went to Italy where he studied, surveyed and sketched ancient sites, and met the influential classical fantasist, Piranesi.

One of Piranesi's involuted imagined views

Soane toured private collections and made excursions to eccentric villas, along the way developing an enduring fascination with the distinctive quality of Mediterranean light. Back in London, Soane married well, and happily. In 1792 he bought 12 Lincoln's Inn Fields, and between 1794 and 1824 he remodeled and extended the house, acquiring two neighboring properties in the process. There he experimented with architectural schemes, ran his business, and housed his growing collection of antiquities and architectural salvage. His practice prospered but his wife's inheritance also helped push the couple's annual income to a comfortable £11,695 (or the equivalent of $588k) around 1800. Soane was thus able to add to his collection with ease, acquiring the sarcophagus of Seti I, Roman bronzes from Pompeii, classical and medieval statuary and casts, mummified cats, several Canalettos and a collection of paintings by Hogarth, among other things...

Soane transformed space with idiosyncratic pass-throughs, corridors and double-height areas, and with his densely layered displays but it is his experimentation with lighting and optical devices that continues to resonate with modern architects. His use of skylights, clerestories, convex and concave mirrors and colored glass panels (some of which were employed in an attempt to recreate Mediterranean light.. In London. Hmmm I think one would need a bit more than yellow glass). In the evening he had his collections lit dramatically with candle and lantern. (It is a particular pleasure to go the Soane on their late night—first Tuesday of the month— to experience the place lit with candles. I don't think that could happen in the US...)

Soane established the house as a Museum in an 1833 Act of Parliament and asked that the museum, in number 13, should be "kept as nearly as possible" in the state in which he left it.

* How I wish I could say the Soane book was fantastic. The historical background and information are very worthwhile but alas, in my opinion, the heart of the book—its photography—is poor and poorly reproduced: murky shadows lack detail, color is disappointingly pallid, many oddly framed shots and lots of lens distortion.

3 comments:

male said...

o i ! . . . mal E here downunder. I still haven't got into the library and fished out the best book on peep shows by Richard Balzac or scanned the late 18thC peeps that I have to show and (add) to your previous post . . . but in response to this blog entry you should know about an article by John Jacobus - Sir John Slone: Museum or Mausoleum? in the Art News Annual xxx11 issue entitled - The Grand Eccentrics from 1966 Newsweek, Inc - The Macmillan Company.
mal E ( + Bh

angela said...

Mal Thanks so much for the tip!
I've ordered a used copy for cheap and will let you know my assessment (haha).

male said...

It's a hard backed journal the one I have, you found it cheap - great I paid $22.00 for my copy second hand. Now the photography is only mono but certainly by an architectural photographer, every vertical has been fixed in the back of the 6"x8" camera. Well researched article on the Englishman who most-loved architecture. Interested in your take, Barbara and I missed the house tour when last in London in 2007 and still regret it . . .

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