SIR JOHN SOANE’S MUSEUM – the collection of an architectural magpie

Sir John Soane’s Museum is one of the must extraordinary places to visi in London. It was the private collection of Britain’s best known neoclassical architect. Displayed exactly how Sir John Soane wanted you to see it. Nothing has been moved since he died, he ensured that by having an Act of Parliament passed that said so.

Soane museum bust plus collection of Roman architectural artefacts
Sir John Soane museum with everything just where Sir John put it

Visiting Sir John Soane’s Museum, London

You can’t miss it. Sir John Soane’s house sticks out a good foot from all the others in row. He was determined that his house would stand out in every way. In fact it isn’t just one house but three. Soane bought number 12 in 1792, knocked it down and built a new house. In 1807 he purchased No 13 knocked that down and built a house and a museum. By 1812 the doors were open and the public could see his collection of marvellous things. By 1823 Soane had bought, demolished and created some more display space at number 14.

Facade Sir John Soane's Museum
Prominent Facade Photo: John Bridges

Who was Sir John Soane?

He was THE star architect of the Regency era. Prestige projects like the Bank of England and Dulwich Picture Gallery were his. If you wanted a fine country house, he was the man to commission. He built Pitzhanger Manor in Ealing as his own country house and show place for his talents, which you can also visit. When he died in 1877 his left his house and collection in Lincoln’s Inn Fields to the nation, on condition that nothing was changed.

Roman sculpture Sir John Soane Museum
Quite an impressive collection of nic-nacs

Inside Sir John Soane’s Museum

At first everything looks pretty normal. A beautiful Georgian era room. In fact at the time the clever use of mirrors and skylights to maximise the light was revolutionary.

Dining Room Sir John Soane Museum
Dining Room

Things begin to take a turn for the extraordinary as you head toward the back of the house and the Soane museum’s main collection.

Canaletto in the Picture Room at Soane Museum
Picture Room Photo: Gareth Gardner

John Soane loved pictures. JMW Turner was one of his closest friends. Soane hit on a novel way displaying all his pictures. He designed a top lit cube which was densely hung with paintings. To fit more in he had hinged panels fitted effectively tripling the display space. In this room you will find, among others, all eight of the Hogarth ‘The Rake’s Progress’ series, some Canalettos, Turner (of course) and a portrait by Sir Thomas Lawrence.

Picture Room being opened Soane Museum
Picture room opening Photo: Gareth Gardner

Onwards to the Crypt and Monument Court. John Soane appears to have been something of an architectural magpie. Look there; a chunk of ancient Greek pediment, over there; a piece of Roman pillar. In the middle is a vast marble sarcophagus, too large even for an Oligarchs bath. This is the tomb of Seti I. Soane paid £2,000 for it in 1825. A sum so vast that even the British Museum baulked at it. When he unveiled his new purchase, he hosted a 3 day party to celebrate.

Sepulchral Chamber and the Sarcophagus of Seti I by candlelight photo
Seti I Sarcophagus Photo by Gareth Gardner

At the top of the stairs is the South Drawing Room, back to standard stately home territory here but painted in Turner yellow.  My companion thought the yellow a bit too yellow. I loved it but then I did once get married in a bright yellow dress.

Regency yellow drawing room Soane Museum
How Yellow is this! Photo: Gareth Gardner

Model Room

At a time that most people didn’t travel and photography was not invented, the best way to show the wonders of ancient architecture was to make cork models of them. Sir John Soane had an impressive collection of cork models. If you’ve ever wanted to see Ancient Rome rendered in cork this is the place to come.

Cork models of Parthenon, Forum
Model Room Photo: Gareth Gardener

Lates at the Sir John Soane Museum

After dark things get really special at the Soane Museum. On Friday nights the candles and some pretty spectacular spot lights come out. You get a glass of wine in the drawing room and can then wander at will.

Library Sir John Soane Museum
Library

Soane online

If you are unable to get into London to visit the Soane museum in person you can still explore Sepulchral Chamber and model collection online.

Langlands and Bell: Degrees of Truth

Langlands and Bell have a special exhibition devoted to them at the Soane, open until 3 January 2020. Their work explores the complex web that links people and architecture and the ways that we communicate.

Sir John Soane’s Museum need to know

  • 12-15 Lincolns Inn Fields, WC2A 3BP
  • Open: Wednesday – Sunday 10am – 5pm
  • Admission: FREE but you do need to book a timed slot
  • Friday Night Lates: £25 Booking essential.

If your appetite for visiting London houses, including Soane’s Pitzhanger Manor is whetted check out my guide to London Historic Houses

Sir John Soane's Museum London quirky collection of architectural objects
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9 Comments

  1. October 2, 2020 / 4:46 pm

    We visited the Soanes museum years ago! Such a fascinating place. I bet you could spend hours here and not see everything.

    • Catherine
      Author
      October 2, 2020 / 4:55 pm

      I see something new every time and I visit often!

  2. October 2, 2020 / 11:30 pm

    This looks like a stunning museum! I didn’t visit this when I was in London last time, so I’ll definitely add this to the bucketlist for my next trip! 🙂

  3. October 3, 2020 / 12:32 am

    This looks like an incredible museum to visit. That exciting that it will be open again. Thank you for sharing and for giving us something to look forward to when we are able to travel again.

  4. October 3, 2020 / 10:59 am

    I had not come across this house before but would love to visit. Such an interesting site and so full of history. The architectural curiosities sound like they would look quite magical by candle light!

  5. Alma
    October 3, 2020 / 12:56 pm

    Soanes Museum looks so interesting and worth exploring. Would love to spend some time there.

  6. October 3, 2020 / 6:52 pm

    Haha it’s so bizarre how one person could collect all of that!! Especially with the price of that tomb, that’s INSANE. What would that even be in today’s money?? How many millions?! Imagine collecting so much random stuff that you can make a museum out of it – so fascinating!

  7. October 4, 2020 / 1:14 am

    Wow! He sounds like quite a character and what an interesting place to explore! I’ve never heard of this before. Thanks for sharing it.

  8. October 7, 2020 / 12:03 pm

    1. Thanks for the tip re the coffee house – always good to know of another one in that area.
    2. I too, love the Sir John Soane’s Museum but I invariably come out of there with my head reeling. Just too much to take it but I never manage to discipline myself.

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