Past Exhibitions

John Soane, Architect: Master Of Space and Light at the Royal Academy

11 September - 3 December 1999

This is the first exhibition of the designs of John Soane (1753-1837) one of England's greatest architects. His masterpieces include his Museum at No 13 Lincoln's Inn Fields, the Bank of England and Dulwich Picture Gallery. Unlike Inigo Jones, Sir Christopher Wren or Robert Adam, Soane is a living inspiration to contemporary architects across the world. This exhibition focuses on twenty of his designs demonstrating the timeless qualities of his style, and his masterly handling of space, light and surface.

Soane was born near Reading in 1753, the some of a country bricklayer. As the youngest of seven brothers in a poor family he received only a rudimentary education and by the age of 15 was working as a labourer on a building site. By some fortunate circumstance, an architect visiting from London noticed his promise and took the boy to London to educate him. Soane was one of the first architects to study at the Royal Academy and in 1776 he won its Gold Medal with his design for a 'Bridge of Magnificence' across the Thames, a model of which featured in the Living Bridges exhibition. The bridge was his passport to Italy on a travelling scholarship, and his two years travelling there were perhaps the happiest of his life. The Museum which he began to assemble at No 13 Lincoln's Inn Fields thirty years later is an evocation of his inspirational journey to the classical ruins of the Mediterranean, with Piranesian scenes of antique fragments displayed under skylights of coloured glass.

Soane returned to England in 1780 and made a reputation for himself by startling designs for modest structures such as farm buildings, stables and small country houses. Working on tight budgets, he created a bare, linear style in which brick or stone are layered to achieve striking effects of light and shade. At the age of 35 he was appointed architect to the Bank of England. The Bank was Soane's masterpiece, built over a period of 45 years. Its sky-lit domed interiors were reminiscent of the ancient baths of Rome and with courtyards, gardens, triumphal arches and fortified walls - to protect the nation's gold at a time of war and revolution - the Bank was a miniature city in itself. Tragically, Soane's Bank was demolished and replaced in the 1920s, saving only its screen wall. To Nicholas Pevsner, its destruction was the greatest archiectural loss suffered by London in the 20th century. In 1812 Soane bought No 13 Lincoln's Inn Fields as a new home for hs family. In 1815 his wife died and Soane lived alone there until his death twenty-two years later, devoting his energy to creating and displaying a collection which would inspire a new generation of artists and architects. At his death it was opened to the public as a Museum, with the stipulation that it be left 'as nearly as possible in the state in which he shall leave it'. Soane is buried in St Pancras Gardens, behind the station, under a domed monument which inspired the design of the K2 telephone box in the 1920s, a prototype of which is in the courtyard of the Royal Academy. It is one of only two tombs in London to be listed Grade 1 - the other is Karl Marx's in Highgate Cemetery. The exhibition will include a full-scale replica of Soane's tomb.

The exhibition, designed by Piers Gough, will reconstruct London's lost 'city'. In the largest room visitors will enter the finest of Soane's Banking halls, reconstructed to 70% of life-size and housing more than twenty of the wooden scale models made by Soane himself, and a new model of the entire complex. A computer walk-through of the Bank will be created by the Alberti Group.

The exhibition will also include designs of Dulwich Picture Gallery, Pitshanger Manor in Ealing, his country house, and his interiors at Wimpole Hall and a National Trust house in Cambridgeshire. Demolished masterpieces include his Law Courts at Westminster - replaced by those on the Strand in the 1880s - and the processional entrance to the Houses of Parliament created for George IV and destroyed in the fire of 1834.


The exhibition is being selected by Margaret Richardson, Curator, Christopher Woodward and Ptolemy Dean, from Sir John Soane's Museum, with MaryAnne Stevens, Collections Secretary and Senior Curator at the Royal Academy in consultation with Professor Robin Middleton (Columbia Univeristy) and John Harris. Sir John Soane's Museum have generously lent architectural drawings and models from their outstanding collection.


Philip Mengel, Chief Executive, Ibstock Building Products Ltd, comments, 'Throughout its 100 year history, Ibstock has worked closely with architects to produce the materials that incorporate their vision for the built environment. When projects have required unusual materials in size, shape, colour or texture, they have often turned to Ibstock as the nation's largest manufacturer of clay brick and terracotta products to supply their needs. The Academy's exhibition helps to remind us that, through the vision of a great architect, humble materials can find triumphant application'.


The Royal Academy is also grateful to a number of other supporters, particularly Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, Foster and Partners, Michael Hopkins and Partners and Richard and Ruth Rogers. Exhibition photographs have been generously donated by Country Life.


PRESS DAY: Tuesday 7 September, 10 am - 2 pm

Private View Days: Wednesday 8 September - Friday 10 September

Open to the Public: Saturday 11 September - Friday 3 December 1999 10 am - 6 pm (last admission, 5.30 pm)

Late night opening: Fridays until 8.30 pm (last admission, 8 pm)


£6 full charge
£4.80 concessions
£4 full-time students
£2.50 12-18 years
£1.50 8-11 years

For further information please contact Christopher Woodward, Sir John Soane's Museum, 0171 405 2107 or the Royal Academy Press Office.

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