Magazine article The Spectator

Shrine of a Connoisseur

Magazine article The Spectator

Shrine of a Connoisseur

Article excerpt

SIR JOHN SOANE SMUSEUM , L ONDON by Tim Knox, photographs by Derry Moore Merrell, £24.95, pp. 160, ISBN 9781858944753 £19.95 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655

Sir John Soane's Museum is very nearly a folly - a mad grotto in the midst of Georgian London. It is clearly the monument of someone both eccentric and egocentric. What saves it from being Hearst Castle, Liberace's palace or Michael Jackson s Neverland, is that its creator was a great architect - the Bank of England was his masterpiece.

In the early 1790s Soane and his rich wife bought No. 12 Lincoln's Inn Fields. The house was rebuilt to Soane s designs, and they moved there in 1794. This book, with its fine, atmospheric photographs by Derry Moore and the deftly informative text by the museum s director, Tim Knox, leads us on a delightful tour of the building which Soane left to the nation. It is so vivid that you could almost spare yourself the trouble of going there; but then you would miss the surprise and revelation that I first enjoyed as a child - when an attendant folds out the hinged panels ( planes they are called, I learn from the book) bearing paintings by Hogarth.

Nature abhors a vacuum, and so did Soane. Virtually every square inch of the walls is covered with the fruits of his collectomania . Knox writes: A mummified cat arrived in 1803 (another joined it in 1829), and Mrs Soane bought two watercolours from J. M. W Turnerf in 1804. That sentence epitomises the blend of the sublime and the ridiculous in the place. Architectural fragments are everywhere, forming a sort of 3-D crazypaving wallpaper. The great prize of the collections was the alabaster sarcophagus of the Egyptian King Seti I (c. 1279 BC), acquired in 1824 from the scholar-huckster Giovanni Belzoni. And there are exhibits to the greater glory of Sir John Soane - a commanding portrait by Lawrence and a marble bust by Chantrey, which Soane modestly had set above Flaxman s statuettes of Michelangelo and Raphael, to assert the superiority of architecture to sculpture and painting.

What was Soane like as a man? You might get the impression, from this book, that he was conceited, cantankerous, capricious and cruel. He refused to help his son George when the latter was imprisoned for debt and fraud in 1815. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.