Sir John Soane’s Museum

Thanks to Steve Barker

Sir John Soane’s Museum (often abbreviated to the Soane Museum) is a museum of architecture, and was formerly the house and studio of the neo-classical architect Sir John Soane. It holds many drawings and modelsof his projects and the collections of paintings, drawings and antiquities that he assembled. The Museum is located in the Holborn district of central London, England, overlooking Lincoln’s Inn Fields. The museum is a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

Soane demolished and rebuilt three houses in succession on the north side of Lincoln’s Inn Fields. He began with No. 12 (between 1792 and 1794), which is externally a conventional plain brick house typical of the period. After becoming Professor of Architecture at the Royal Academy in 1806, Soane purchased No. 13, the house next door, today the Museum, and rebuilt it in two phases in 1808-09 and 1812.

In 1808-09 he constructed his drawing office and “museum” on the site of the former stable block at the back, using primarily top lighting. In 1812 he rebuilt the front part of the site, adding a projecting Portland Stone facade to the basement, ground and first floor levels and the centre bay of the second floor. Originally this formed three open loggias, but Soane glazed the arches during his lifetime. Once he had moved into No. 13, Soane rented out his former home at No. 12 (on his death it was left to the nation along with No. 13, the intention being that the rental income would fund the running of the Museum).

After completing No.13, Soane set about treating the building as an architectural laboratory, continually remodelling the interiors. In 1823, when he was over 70, he purchased a third house, No. 14, which he rebuilt in 1823-24. This project allowed him to construct a picture gallery, linked to No.13, on the former stable block of No. 14. The front main part of this third house was treated as a separate dwelling (perhaps almost a speculative development!) and let as an investment; it was not internally connected to the other buildings.

The sarcophagus of Seti I at the centre of Soane's Museum at the back of the house, as shown in the Illustrated London News in 1864.

The Museum was established during Soane’s own lifetime by a private Act of Parliament in 1833, which took effect on Soane’s death in 1837. The Act required that No. 13 be maintained ‘as nearly as possible’ as it was left at the time of Soane’s death and by and large that has been the case. Towards the end of the 19th century a break-through was made to re-connect the rear rooms of No. 12 through to the Museum in No. 13 and since 1969 No. 12 has been run by the Trustees as part of the Museum, housing the research library, offices and, since 1995, the ‘Soane Gallery’ for temporary exhibitions. The Museum’s Trustees remained completely independent, relying only on Soane’s original endowment, until 1947. Since that date the Museum has received an annual Grant-in-Aid from the British Government (this now comes via the Department for Culture, Media and Sport). The Soane Museum is now a national centre for the study of architecture. In 1997 the Trustees purchased the main house at No. 14 with the help of the Heritage Lottery Fund. The house will be restored in 2006 to enable the Museum to expand its educational activities.

Via The Soane Museum

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