Review: visit to the Soane Museum

A group of us met at the Sir John Soane Museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields on Sunday 17th November for a very enjoyable visit to this fascinating museum. This was followed by a half-pint at the delightfully traditional The Ship Tavern around the corner, to discuss all we had seen.

Thanks to committee member Trevor Moore for the full review below.

First – the museum, which defies description. Imagine being inside a giant kaleidoscope, with the visually arresting display around you shifting every time you turn a few degrees. Soane had wanted to create a union of architecture, sculpture and painting, in the place he called home (some home!). He achieved this magnificently, with multifarious works, seemingly endless in number  – for the most part (according to an attendant) bought by Soane at auction, or given to him. 

A number of rooms – two drawing rooms, a magnificent dining room, the breakfast room and the kitchens, remind you that this was indeed a place where a family lived. The private apartment on the second floor is not part of the general display, but volunteer-led viewings can be booked.

But everywhere are glimpses of history – too much for the eye to take in on one visit. The attendants are full of knowledge and welcome questions as you drift from space to space. The architecture of Rome had a profound influence on Soane – in his own architecture and in the focus of his collection. Look out for engravings that depict Roman wall paintings from the Villa Negroni, copies of sculptures of the Arch of Constantine and, in the Dome Area, a vast display of classical fragments, casts and vases – all overlooked by a bust of Soane himself, looking rather Caesar-like.

Perhaps the most stunning element of this beautiful building, that embraces you in its narrow corridors and niches, is the use of light. Soane so designed the interior that small domes, skylights and stained-glass windows subtly illuminate the displays. 

As to the Hogarth exhibition, you can follow his beautifully conceived morality tales both in etchings and paintings. Particularly striking are the oil colour paintings that are a revelation if you have previously seen only black and white engravings – there is a full set of The Rake’s Progess

A highly enjoyable visit – and all of this is free. Just book in advance, because numbers are limited, given some of the narrow spaces in the house.

Some of the group waiting outside before entering the museum