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Sir John Soane’s Museum

On September 1, 2009

My first thought upon entering the inner collection rooms of the eclectic and very personal Sir John Soane’s Museum was, “Who dusts all this stuff?” My second thought was, “How amazing.” Housed at 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields (Soane also owned and renovated the homes on each side), the museum was donated to the city by Sir John at the time of his death in 1837.

soans house

During his lifetime, Sir John and his wife lived here amongst the hundreds of antiquities, books and paintings he collected. Again one can only imagine what it must have been like to spend a life moving amongst these incredible – but admittedly space and dust collecting – artifacts and works of art. Soane was estranged from both his sons, the younger of whom Sir John blamed for the death of Mrs. Soane. Sir John’s wife died just a fortnight after her discovery of an anonymous derogatory article about Soane that he had endeavored to keep from her; both of them were certain the vitriol had been penned by their son, George. It’s a little too pop psychology to wonder if the fascinating but somehow sterile shop of curiosities mirrors the life of the family which inhabited it. The family apartment – previously off limits to the public – will be opened in the next few years; perhaps it will shed more light on lives that were literally lived in a museum.

For now it’s enough to let the magnificent clutter overrun you. Soane’s organizational scheme might be kindly described as random. Two delightfully intriguing series of paintings by William Hogarth – An Election and A Rake’s Progress – are displayed in the same room. An entire visit to the museum could be spent examining these astute and witty dissections of a time whose foibles seem much like those of modern day.

For me the museum’s other stand out piece is the Sarcophagus of Seti I which can be seen as a piece of the whole when looking down at it from two floors above and as a singular work of art when standing next to it in the crypt where it is displayed.

Other than the Hogarths and the Sarcophagus, my most vivid memory of Sir John Soane’s Museum is the museum itself. As remarkable as the works housed are, their volume and their manner of display almost overpower them. Were I a resident of London, I would be a frequent visitor to Soane as I think only by frequent visits could one appreciate all it has to offer; that being written, it is highly recommended as a London stop even if only an hour can be devoted to it.

I’m not sure whether I didn’t take pictures inside the museum because it wasn’t allowed or because it was so interesting I forgot to take pictures as I did at the bat & trap competition; fortunately, the museum has a really good feature packed website.

I visited on a Tuesday and for the first half hour or so nearly had the place to myself. There’s a candlelit tour the first Tuesday of every month which would probably make for an extremely interesting evening but beware large crowds are routine.

Next stop the home of another compelling Londoner: Dr. Johnson.

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