diamond geezer

 Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Sir John Soane's Museum
There's no other museum like it. The townhouse of one of Georgian London's most important architects - Sir John Soane - the man behind the Bank of England and the Dulwich Picture Gallery. As Professor of Architecture at the Royal Academy in 1806 he set about transforming his town house into an inspirational museum for his students, and an Act of Parliament has preserved it in much the same state ever since his death. The library and drawing room look relatively normal, for 200 years ago, with bookshelves and wood panelling ornamental clocks. It's only when you step beyond into the rear of the house that the sheer oddness of the building confronts you. Every space in this warren of rooms is filled with some artistic object, probably classical, be that a bust, column, boss or statue. Most are plaster casts of the real thing, ideal for inspiring students in the ways of the ancient world without actually having to travel there. The largest object is a genuine Egyptian sarcophagus, hewn from a single block of limestone, which needed a hole to be knocked in the wall before Soane could get it inside. Soane's collection is spread across two levels, with lightwells that successfully illuminate the basement even on the shortest day of the year. I'd love to show you some pictures so you can gauge quite how peculiar the place is, but photography's banned so I'm afraid none exist.

Art was another of Sir John's great loves, and some famous paintings hang from his walls. A few Canalettos for a start, but more importantly some original Hogarths. All eight canvases of A Rake's Progress are here, filling most of one wall, allowing visitors to peruse the poor man's journey from playboy to the madhouse. Another 18th century comic strip is The Election, William's take on parliamentary corruption in a rural Oxfordshire constituency, which bears close scrutiny to pick out all the satirical details. Elsewhere, upstairs, the room sometimes used to host exhibitions is to be closed off at the end of this month to enable the transformation of the building. £6m is to be spent creating a brand new visitor experience, essentially by extending into the Soane-built house nextdoor, enabling more of number 13 to be returned to its original use and splendour. That'll take until mid-2012 to complete, but there'll still be tons to see here before then. Be warned though, the curator only allows a certain number of visitors inside the house at any one time, so you may have to queue out on the pavement before being admitted to see the delights inside.
13 Lincoln's Inn Fields, WC2A 3BP - closed Dec 24-28, Jan 1-3

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