Sir John Soane’s Museum

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Sir John Soane

While Rye News has a policy of local news for local people we are not, as some of our readers would appear to suggest, quite as constrained as Royston Vasey.

We are for a start hospitable and on occasion we do venture out.

A pair of us recently essayed, at not inconsiderable expense, to London on Southern Rail. In contrast to the DFLs we were UFRs.

Departing Rye at 08.16 and meandering through Kent leaves one at Charing Cross just after 10.00 thus qualifying for off-peak rates. A further twenty minute walk or a No. 91 up the Strand and Aldwych brings you to Lincoln’s Inn Field where at No 13, give or take a couple of houses, you find Sir John Soane’s Museum which opens from 10.00 to 17.00 Wednesday – Sunday and entry is free.

Soane was a bricklayer’s son who had an affinity for and appreciation of architecture, a talent for drawing, some lucky breaks, culminating in winning a competition for a Thames bridge, and a subsequent Travelling Scholarship at the expense of George III which allowed him to take the Grand Tour. The icing on the cake was a fortuitous marriage to an heiress.

Despite this serendipity John Soane was a successful and lauded neoclassical architect. He was appointed architect to the Bank of England in 1788 and Professor of Architecture at The Royal Academy in 1806.

Sir John Soane’s Museum is the product of a successful and prosperous professional career and a lifetime of acquiring antiquities, architectural salvage, an extensive library and an inordinate number of architectural drawings and sketches. Determined to protect his collection from his wayward estranged son, Soane managed to have a private Act of Parliament passed leaving his home to the nation. Soane’s intention was to have the interiors and the collections displayed as at the time of his death in 1837.

The museum is ergo a shade overpowering in its extensive eclecticism, from an enormous alabaster sarcophagus of Seti I in the basement to a potpourri of Greek and Roman busts, urns, vases and mosaics interspersed with Peruvian pottery and Chinese ceramics distributed around the three floors of three houses. There is additionally a collection of some 30,000 architectural drawings, perspectives and models including a number by Robert and James Adam and Christopher Wren.

The piece de resistance, Hogarth’s eight canvases depicting A Rake’s Progress and the three Turners were, however, worth being overwhelmed and we fully intend returning, intrigued by the variety although largely motivated by a desire to impart some coherence to the experience.

The walk back to Charing Cross takes you past, on the corner of Aldwych and Drury Lane, The Delauney, modelled, by their own account, on the grand cafés of Mittel-Europe and offering heart threatening Sachertorte. I’m just saying.

Image Credits: Soane Museum.

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