Museum purchases several Soane drawings at the Richardson sale

Curator of Drawings Stephen Astley looks at some exciting additions to the Museum collections, purchased at the recent Richardson sale at Christie’s, which allowed the return of several Soane drawings to their original home.

On the 18 and 19 September Christie’s sold the major part of the contents of Avenue House, Ampthill, Bedordshire. This eighteenth century house was the home and studio of the architect Professor Sir Albert Richardson (1880 – 1964). It housed his amazing and very eclectic collection, preserved after his death, until seven years of negotiations with the National Trust failed, and the decision was taken to sell. Sometimes known as ‘The Soane in the Country’ the sale of Prof. Richardson’s collection was of interest to the Museum because several lots were composed of drawings by Sir John Soane and his Office. Supported by a generous donor, the Museum was able to purchase three of those lots. Although not an acquiring institution, some or perhaps all of the Soane drawings were acquired by Professor Richardson by descent from his ancestor Charles James Richardson (1806 – 1871) who had been first a pupil in Soane’s office from 1824 – 1830 and then an assistant, working here until Soane’s death in 1837, and their purchase enabled their return to Lincoln’s Inn Fields.

Only known drawing of Soane's proposed house at Burn Hall, a plan showing the room layouts.  Image courtesy of Christie's

Burn Hall, County Durham.  Image courtesy of Christie's

The first lot acquired by the Museum included the only known drawing for Soane’s work at Burn Hall, Co. Durham, a project of 1793, which remained unexecuted after the client, Mr Smith sold Burn Hall and bought Piercefield House,  Chepstow. Soane remodelled Piercefield, which is now being left to decay by its owners and is the subject of a current campaign by SAVE to secure its survival. Also included were three floor plans for Sulby Lodge, Northamptonshire for Rene Payne, dating from 1792. Sulby was demolished shortly after the Second World War. A plan of 1815 shows one of Soane’s proposals for alterations and extensions to Camolin Park, Co. Wexford for Viscount Valentia. Two further plans are office copies of Soane’s proposals for remodelling Dunninald, Angus for David Scott in 1796.  This is for Soane a rare Scottish work and was sadly unexecuted.

Ground floor plan, probably for Pitzhanger Manor, Soane's country villa.  Image courtesy of Christie's

Pitzhanger manor, Ealing.  Image courtesy of Christie's

The second lot purchased comprises of five sheets, all by Soane Office hands. They are a ground floor plan of Pitzhanger Manor, a plan of the monument tower for Lord Ducie at Tortworth, a first floor plan of Tyringham and a ground floor plan of a villa, with pencil alterations. This last is probably a design for a precursor of Pitzhanger Manor. The final sheet is a design drawing showing a cross section and details of a heated greenhouse.

Plan of Lord Ducie's monument tower at Tortworth.  Image courtesy of Christie's

Plan of Lord Ducie's Monument at Tortworth, Gloucestershire.  Image courtesy of Christie's

The final lot purchased includes two plans for Soane’s proposed National Monument. This enormous building, for which Soane produced a variety of designs between 1815 and 1817, was to function both as a monument and mausoleum Soane intended it be built near the Palace of Westminster, but a combination of political and financial factors ensured it was never started. Several other miscellaneous drawings were included in the lot. Among them were designs for heating boilers by Charles James Richardson, presumably relating to his book of 1837 on heating and ventilating buildings.

The acquisition of these drawings will enable the museum to fill gaps in the stories of Soane’s architecture and his architectural practice. They also reinforce the museum’s position as the major repository for the drawings of Soane and his Office. The drawings will be added to the rapidly developing catalogue of drawings on the museum’s web site and so will be available to a world-wide audience.

Posted on 23 September 2013 in Looking at Drawings
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