Past Exhibitions

Architecture Unshackled: George Dance the Younger 1741-1825

An Exhibition at Sir John Soane's Museum from 10 October 2003 to 3 January 2004

Supported by the Baring Foundation

Described by C.R. Cockerell as 'the most complete poet-architect of his day', George Dance the Younger stands out as one of the pioneers of his profession. John Soane, his pupil and friend, saw him as 'one of the most accomplished architects of the English school' and praised the 'great fertility of invention' that infused his work. This exhibition, the first on this major architect since 1972, provides a chance for modern observers to appreciate the range and variety of Dance's work.

During his career Dance produced a series of groundbreaking designs for public and private buildings. He held the important post of Architect to the Corporation of London from 1768 (the only outstanding architect to have occupied this position), but produced much of his best work independent of the City. His earliest commission, the church of All Hallows, London Wall (1765-7) was the first neo-classical building erected in Britain. Newgate Gaol (1770-80), with its forbidding exterior pierced by a doorway over-hung with iron shackles, was widely acknowledged as a masterpiece. In the south front of London's Guildhall (1777-8) Dance became the first European architect to introduce Indian proportions and elements into a design. Dance's interiors were equally revolutionary: his use of domed and 'star-fish' vaulted ceilings and his interest in invisible light sources was to exert a profound influence on the work of his one-time pupil, John Soane.

The collection of Dance drawings acquired by Soane in 1836 (now housed in the 'shrine' cabinet in the North Drawing Room of his Museum) form the core of this exhibition. These drawings reveal Dance to be a brilliant draughtsman as well as a designer of great originality. They range from drawings Dance made during his time as a student in Italy (1758-64), through to his public works and the country house designs of his later career. Of his private house commissions his celebrated design for the library at Landsdowne House, Berkeley Square (1788-91) is perhaps best known, but he also designed houses at Stratton Park, Hampshire (1803-6), Coleorton, Leicestershire (1804-8) and Ashburnham, Sussex (1813-17) all of which exhibited startlingly new ideas. The exhibition also features Dance's extraordinary, unexecuted, project for redeveloping the Port of London at the heart of which was a double bridge spanning the Thames.

Exhibition Guide available from the Museum shop

'Architecture Unshackled': George Dance, 1741-1825 is curated by Jill Lever, who has written the first comprehensive catalogue of Dance's drawings in Soane's collection.
The catalogue is now available from the Museum shop, priced £150.