Sir John Soane’s House is not only a space to explore and enjoy, but also the embodiment of one man’s creativity and eccentricity. And this is what makes it so absorbing.
In the early nineteenth century, Sir John Soane became a renowned architect and was fortunate to fall in love with, and then marry, a woman of great wealth. This fortune opened up an exciting world of opportunity for Soane, and instead of being in any way restrained, he used this prospect to its full advantage.
His home can consequently now be viewed as a museum of exquisite objects, with The Dressing Room, Colonnade and Dome covered from floor to ceiling with treasures from antiquity. This ultimate use of embellishment is bewildering, and manoeuvring around the packed Colonnade feels like being in an architect’s sweet shop. Due to his unique approach to design, one soon becomes lost in a world of wonder and magical stories, like that of a fictional monk, Padre Giovanni, whose tomb can be seen from the house’s satirical ‘gothic’ basement. Each of these fascinating rooms were in fact designed to educate his pupils at The Royal Academy– they must have been captivated.
Rather ironically, one of the main features in the house’s crowded Picture Room is Hogarth’s painted version of The Rake’s Progress. This series of paintings, hidden behind a fold-out wooden panel, portrays the demise of an unfortunate young man; Tom Rakewell. The story begins as Rakewell inherits, and then quickly squanders, a fortune from his miserly father. In an attempt to remain part of ‘high’ society, he marries a wealthy older woman but predictably squanders her fortune too, and eventually ends up in Bedlam, having lost his mind. The paintings were bought by Soane to educate his children; warning them against reckless spending and a hedonistic existence. And here lies the irony. Sir John Soane was famed for his lavish tastes and his ability to spend vast quantities of money. In the basement of the house, for instance, lies an immense Egyptian sarcophagus, which was refused by The British Museum due to its high price, but bought by Soane for two thousand pounds!
Despite his valiant efforts, Soane’s own son actually became renowned for reckless spending, which is perhaps why Sir John’s home was eventually left, fortunately for us, to the nation. The Museum’s recent project to open up the space has enabled the house to return to its former glory, and be fully experienced by visitors. Amazingly, it can be enjoyed for free by the general public. Such memorable experiences rarely come at this price. So, if you happen to have an hour or two to spare in London, I recommend exploring this immersive space.
All images courtesy of the Trustees of Sir John Soane’s Museum