Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Sir John Soane's Museum, Unlike Any Other

Sunlit dome over a collection of casts.
On the north side of Lincoln's Inn Fields is one of the quirkiest museums in London. Sir John Soane's Museum is cluttered in every corner from ceiling to floor with a collection of ancient relics, curios, paintings and 19th century furnishings.

This museum is highly recommended in every London guide book I have purchased. It's a wonder I only chose to visit it now and this is definitely a must see. Unlike the massive British Museum or National Gallery which can both be overwhelming, wondering here is like a surprise wherever you look. The compactness in viewing each room and its unusual pieces makes for a satisfying experience. If not for the brochure sold upon entry, I would be hard pressed to determine where to look first.

Among the highlights: the Sarcophagus of Pharaoh Seti I; the picture room with a series of paintings by William Hogarth including A Rake's Progress (1733); a collection of clocks and timepieces including one presented to Queen Anne in the 1690s; and a collection of busts, urns and architectural fragments under a skylit dome which hovers over all three levels of the museum.

No. 13, one of the three houses that make up the museum.
Soane (1753-1837) was a Professor of Architecture who amassed his collection to be made available to his students and amateur artists. He left his collection to the nation and the rooms have been maintained as Soane had arranged them. The museum origins go back to 1824 when Soane purchased three houses, had them demolished and rebuilt and set up the museum and his home.

Admission is free but donations are welcome. A brochure available for purchase is highly recommended for enjoyment of the museum. The brochure will guide you through each room on a path recommended by Soane and highlight each room's contents. The ultimate guide is the hardcover book 'Sir Joan Soane's Museum' by Tim Knox' available for purchase at the museum or online.

I guess this is how the museum lets you know these chairs are art.
Museum is open Tue-Sat 10am-5pm. A candlelit opening on the first Tuesday of every month is popular (expect lines) from 6pm-9pm. Tours on Sat at 11am cost five pounds with ticket sales starting at 10:30am. More info at Tube: Holborn, Chancery Court.

This is the only attraction I know where a greeter at the front door requested you remove your cell phone, turn it off and place it in a plastic bag with other loose objects. You are free to hold the bag while touring the museum but the objects must remain in the bag.

One of the many narrow hallways in the museum.
Exterior of all three houses that is Soane's Museum.


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