Past Exhibitions

Soane’s Magician: The Tragic Genius of Joseph Michael Gandy

An exhibition in the Soane Gallery from 31 March to 12 August 2006

The Soane Museum is pleased to announce a new exhibition exploring the relationship between John Soane and Joseph Michael Gandy (1771-1843), who for more than thirty years painted Soane's masterpieces in dramatic, luminous perspective views. Gandy's watercolours, over thirty of which will be on display in this exhibition, are not only the most brilliant images of architecture ever painted in Britain; they also tell the story of the most creative partnership of its type in the history of British architecture.

Gandy was one of a twelve children of a waiter at White's Club on St James's whose talent for drawing was spotted by the club's architect. As a student of architecture at the Royal Academy he won the Gold Medal, and rich benefactors paid for a trip to Italy. In 1797 he fled Rome to escape Napoleon's troops and early in 1798 he knocked on the door of John Soane's house in Lincoln's Inn Fields to ask for work.

In his first week in the office he measured a house but Soane soon recognised Gandy's genius for depicting architecture in perspective. For the next thirty-five years he drew Soane's designs, either to open a client's cheque book or to show a completed project at its best at the annual exhibitions at the Royal Academy. As Soane's biographer Gillian Darley puts it, 'it is as if Soane's architecture had been waiting for someone to translate his buildings from pleasing fair copies into a continuous narrative - a visual argument with which to confront a critical world'.

Joseph Michael Gandy was unique in his ability to express on paper Soane's manipulation of space and light. He could capture the morning sunshine as it illuminated the breakfast room in a country house, or the magnificence of the new Bank of England. But Gandy also understood Soane's dreams - and demons - better than any contemporary. He juxtaposed the fantasies of his master's youth with the realities of his later life; he compared the greatness of Rome with the littleness of modern London; understanding Soane's preoccupation with posterity he showed him how his masterpieces would look as ruins of the future.

As Soane's career came to a close in the 1820s, Gandy painted dozens of huge perspectives imagining London reconstructed by Soane as a monumental neo-classical city of triumphal arches and heroic sculpture. 'I respect you above myself', Gandy wrote to Soane at this time; the two men shared an idealism unique to the period. By this time Gandy's career as an architect in his own right had failed, thanks to his stormy relationships with clients and his refusal to compromise his visions. More than once, Soane rescued him from the debtor's prison.

Gandy - a contemporary of Wordsworth and Coleridge - was the first true Romantic in British architecture and his life is a tragedy of self-destructive genius. After Soane's death, Gandy buried himself in architectural fantasies and fell deeper and deeper into debt. 'The English Piranesi' was incarcerated in a lunatic asylum in Devon in 1843 and died in a windowless damp cell.

The exhibition has been curated by Sir John Soane's Museum to coincide with the publication by Thames and Hudson of Joseph Gandy: An Architectural Visionary in Georgian England by Brian Lukacher.

A 6-page A4 colour guide to the exhibition is available from the Museum Shop

For details of Joseph Gandy: An Architectural Visionary in Georgian England by Brian Lukacher please contact Rosalee Rich, Press Officer, Thames & Hudson. Tel: 020 7845 5020. Email