The Garden Guide

Book: London and Its Environs, 1927
Chapter: 20 Covent Garden, Kingsway, Lincoln's Inn Fields

Soane Museum 1

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In the middle of the north side of Lincoln's Inn Fields (No. 13) is Sir John Soane's Museum, founded by Sir John Soane (1753-1837), architect of the Bank of England, the Dulwich Gallery, and many other public buildings. Owing to the stipulation of the founder that his collections should not be added to nor disturbed, the museum has the unusual interest of retaining the character of a private house of the period (1812), built largely with a view to the display of the objects of art it contains. The arrangements to make the most of the room available are exceedingly ingenious; and the effect of space is enhanced by a clever use of mirrors. The fine doors, of mahogany and ebony, deserve notice. Though many of its contents (e.g. the casts and fragments of architectural details) are of interest to the specialist only, the museum includes some things that no visitor to London should miss, pre-eminently the collection of paintings by William Hogarth (rivalling that at the National Gallery) and the sarcophagus of Seti I. Many of the windows are filled with old stained glass. Some of the contents have considerable historical or personal interest. The Museum is open free from March to August on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, from 10.30 to 5; in October and November on Thursday and Friday, from 10.30 to 5 (in November till 4). Visitors are admitted at other times also (except Sunday and Bank Holidays) on written or personal application to the curator (Mr. Arthur T. Bolton, F.S.A.). Printed descriptions 6d. and 1/. From the ENTRANCE HALL, containing plaster casts and a bust of Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830), by R. W. Sievier, we pass into the DINING ROOM AND LIBRARY, a double room 40 feet long and 21 feet wide, with decorations suggestive of Pompeian art. The ceiling paintings by Henry Howard represent Aurora, with the Morning Star, Ph�bus Apollo, and the Hours (north room), and the Story of Pandora (south room). Over the chimney-piece is a portrait of Sir John Soane, by Lawrence, and on the west wall is �The Snake in the Grass,� by Sir Joshua Reynolds (replicas in the Tate Gallery, and at the Hermitage in Petrograd). Among the other contents of the double room may be noted the Sheraton and Chippendale arm-chairs, a fine Greek vase, 2 feet 8 inches high (north end), an Empire clock with an orrery (in working order), a finely illuminated manuscript by Giulio Clovio (circa 1540), frames with signatures of Wren (1716) and Inigo Jones (1623), another Greek vase of unusual form (on pedestal bookcase at east pier), and a small but fine bronze bust of Napoleon. On the round table in the centre are an original manuscript of Tasso's �Gerusalemme Liberata,� two sketchbooks by Sir Joshua Reynolds, and early printed books. The Axminster carpets date from 1823. The Library contains 8000 volumes and a large collection of architectural and topographical drawings, including 8000 by Robert Adam and many by John Thorpe, Wren, Kent, and Chambers (accessible to students). From the north-east angle of the Library we enter two small rooms with Greek and Roman marble fragments, a fine Russo-Greek triptych, and other small objects, and then turn to the right into the Museum proper. Crossing a corridor, with casts and models, we reach the HOGARTH ROOM, which, though only 13 feet 8 inches long, and 12 feet 4 inches wide, is rendered capable, by an ingenious arrangement of folding shutters on the walls, of containing as many pictures as a gallery 45 feet long and 20 feet wide. The chief contents are two admirable series of paintings by William Hogarth (1697-1764), the Rake's Progress (8 scenes; 1735), and the Election (4 scenes; 1754-57), excellent examples, not only of his satirical humour and invention, but of his harmonious colouring, dexterous handling, and able composition. Other pictures in this room are views of the Rialto and Piazza of St. Mark by Canaletto (north side); a series of drawings by Piranesi; Passage Point, by A. W. Callcott; numerous architectural drawings by Sir John Soane; a head supposed to be from one of Raphael's cartoons, and two heads copied by Flaxman from another cartoon. The opening of the inner leaves on the south wall discloses a large and well-lighted recess, containing a cast of a Nymph by Westmacott. This is open to the Monk's Parlour, below.