When he wasn’t designing notable buildings (among them the original Bank of England), Sir John Soane (1753-1837) obsessively collected art, furniture and architectural ornamentation. In the 19th century, he turned his house into a museum to which, he said, ‘amateurs and students’ should have access. The result is this perfectly amazing place.
Much of the museum’s appeal derives from the domestic setting. The modest rooms were modified by Soane with ingenious devices to channel and direct daylight, and to expand space, including walls that open out like cabinets to display some of his many paintings (Canaletto, Turner, Hogarth). The Breakfast Room has a beautiful domed ceiling, inset with convex mirrors. The extraordinary Monument Court contains a sarcophagus of alabaster, so fine that it’s almost translucent, that was carved for the pharaoh Seti I (1291-78 BC) and discovered in his tomb in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings. There are also numerous examples of Soane’s eccentricity, not least the cell for his imaginary monk ‘Padre Giovanni’.
I was lucky enough to visit the museum on one of my trips to London. Situated just out side of the city at number 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields. The museum itself is a succession of remodelled town houses, purchased and adapted by Soan over a period of 50 years. One particular room, my favorite, is devoted to his historic architectural model collection. Breathtaking but fragile in its original state, the room was closed for several years. It has been recently restored and will soon be reopened to the public.