Monday, February 22, 2010
Inspired by the Sir John Soane's Museum
How to describe the Sir John Soane’s Museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London? Aladdin’s cave? A Time Travel experience? A Gothic extravaganza? It is all of these and more – and an absolute treasure trove for a 19th century historical novelist.
When Soane, one of our finest architects, died in 1837, he left his house and collection to the nation on condition that they remained as he left them. As the house was both office and home, we have a sort of time warp of how Soane actually lived.
His home is quirky in the extreme, from the vibrant Pompeian red walls of the library with its hanging arches placed in front of mirrors just underneath the ceiling to trick the eye into thinking there’s space behind, to the sophisticated sulphur-yellow drawing-room and the eerie Monk’s parlour. One of the most fascinating things about the rooms is how they’re lit. Almost every wall is covered from floor to ceiling with either paintings or architectural features from his collection, which leaves little room for windows. Soane’s ingenious solutions include high windows immediately under the ceiling, or even in the ceiling itself. The breakfast room, for example, has a saucer dome ceiling with a lantern window in the centre.
The basement is a hotch-potch of sculpture, ranging from an Egyptian sarcophagus to statues, sections of cornice, rosettes, bas reliefs; anything interesting that took his fancy. There is a picture gallery at each end, one of which contains his superb collection of Hogarths. Heaven knows what Mrs Soane made of it all. It must have been like living inside a Gothic novel.
I particularly love Soane’s tiny study with his specially made desk with a top which slides out, and his dressing-room beyond with the original wash basin, together with a mahogany-cased pump with a handle to bring the water up from the well.
In the museum shop, I pounced on a copiously illustrated book The Soanes at Home by the museum archivist, Susan Palmer, which examines the Soanes’ domestic life in fascinating detail: where the servants slept and what they did, the household bills, what the washing arrangements were and so on.
This house is guaranteed to inspire you! And it’s free, too. www.soane.org.uk