Soane’s collection of Neo-Classical sculpture is recognised as of immense significance. It includes works by most of the leading sculptors of his day, with an especially fine collection of models by John Flaxman. Soane had the pick of Flaxman’s studio after his death and apart from University College London, this is the finest collection of his work, including three rare terracottas made before Flaxman began producing his models in plaster.
The collection is also of interest because Soane selected pieces to represent major political figures and events of his day and his his Museum is therefore a record of his own life and times, including portrait busts of a wide range of celebrated figures (Napoleon, the actor John Philip Kemble, the artists Henry Howard and Sir Thomas Lawrence, Sir William Chambers, George Dance, William Pitt, Warren Hastings, Richard Brinsley Sheridan and the heroes of the war against Napoleon, Prince Blücher and General Paoli - the Corsican patriot). Soane also acquired models for significant late 18th-early 19th century memorials in St. Pauls and Westminster Abbey including the statue of Joshua Reynolds (St. Pauls) and the Mansfield Monument (Westminster - the first monument ‘in the round’ in England). The collection also includes the model for the celebrated monument to Penelope Boothby in Ashbourne Church, Derbyshire by Thomas Banks - when shown at the Royal Academy it moved Queen Charlotte to tears and it is the epitome of neoclassical sentiment.
Important sculpture includes:
Thomas Banks: model for the monument to Penelope Boothby, Ashbourne Church, Derbyshire.
Thomas Banks: plaster model for ‘Achilles and Thetis’ (marble in V&A).
Francis Chantry: marble bust of Sir John Soane, 1829, described by the sculptor as the best thing he had ever done. Plaster model in the Ashmolean (Chantry Bequest).
George Garrard: bust of Richard Brinsley Sheridan.
Louis Merlieux: bust of Georges Cuvier, Napoleon’s scientific advisor.
Sievier: bust of Sir Thomas Lawrence.
Turnerelli: equestrian statue of George III.
Richard Westmacott: marble bust of Sir William Chambers and plaster of a ‘Nymph’ (marble original at Castle Howard destroyed by fire 1940).
John Flaxman: wide variety of models including many for national memorials and monuments (Robert Burns, Reynolds, William Pitt, Lord Mansfield, Warren Hastings), casts from Flaxman’s collection, chess-men modelled for Wedgwood, early self-portraits and a portrait of Mrs. Soane and an early wax model by Flaxman of the Hercules Hesperides in the British Museum.