News From the Soane: Autumn 2013

Helen Dorey, Acting Director and Inspectress shares the latest news from the Museum

New Director

I am delighted to announce that the Trustees have appointed Abraham Thomas as the next Director of Sir John Soane’s Museum. Abraham will join the Museum in December and comes to us from the Victoria and Albert Museum, where, as Curator of Designs, he was responsible for, amongst other exhibitions, the acclaimed 'Heatherwick Studio: Designing the Extraordinary'. He will arrive at a particularly creative and challenging time with the long-awaited unveiling of Soane’s restored private apartments in sight and an excellent exhibition programme in prospect, but at the same time the task of raising the ‘Permanently Magical’ endowment fund for the Museum and leading our strategy in response to the reduction in our Government grant-in-aid.    

Opening up the Soane – the latest on Phase II

Phase II of our ambitious Opening up the Soane project began as planned in May, overseen by Lyall Thow and Caroline Wilson on behalf of Julian Harrap Architects. The first major impact on the Museum has been the erection of scaffolding on the front façade of No.13, in all three courtyards and across the rear roofs in preparation for the works now taking place to restore Soane’s private apartments on the second floor of No.13.

Protective hoarding covering Soane's Pasticcio in the Monument Court during building works

The protective hoarding now covering Soane’s ‘pasticcio’ in the Monument Court features Soane’s original design for the architectural column. Photograph: Colin Wood

Even in the first few weeks the new discoveries made on the second floor (which once comprised Soane’s Bedroom, Bathroom, Oratory, Model Room and Mrs Soane’s Morning Room) have already proved exciting and illuminating. In the 1890s the then Curator of the Museum, James Wild, wrote a note in his Specification that when the original window between Soane’s Oratory and the main staircase was blocked up, pieces of the original partition between the Oratory and Soane’s Bedroom were used to fill in the aperture. Sure enough, when plaster covering this area was carefully removed the uprights of the original partition – with their Soanean double bead mouldings and original bronze green paintwork - were revealed. Some of them even have fragments of the wallpaper still attached. As none of the partitions survive, these elements are going to provide not just original Soane painted surfaces but vital evidence as to their construction. We also hope that the paint and wallpaper fragments will confirm our query over the extent of wallpaper by proving whether or not the Oratory was papered or painted in Soane’s day.

Another exciting element of the work to restore Soane’s private apartments is the recreation of all the stained glass windows and doors – including the ‘scroll’ borders for the large window in the North Drawing Room on the floor below.  Happily, most of the original 16th- and 17th-century stained glass subject panels that Soane inserted into his windows survive, along with fragments of the different border patterns and colours that he used.  However, the double doors that once existed across Soane’s Book Passage have sadly lost their sixteen sepia coloured stained glass panels depicting figures of bishops and saints. The doors themselves survive, mutilated and repositioned between the front and back rooms on the second floor and will be fully restored during Phase II, but the stained glass was removed by Wild and put into the Monk’s Parlour in the basement, where it was blown up in World War II.  Fortunately the engravings on which these panels were based have been identified and there exists a group of early 20th-century photographs showing the panels in their correct position within the doors, which will help Laura Pes, of Chapel Studios to recreate them. All sixteen panels will be carefully painted, fired and re-installed in Soane’s double doors in time for the re-opening of the second floor next year.

Stained glass in the Monk's Parlour window, 1911

The sixteen panels of saints in the Monk’s Parlour window, c.1911, photographed by the then Curator, Walter Spiers.  The photograph helps to confirm the correct position of the recreated glass panels in Soane’s double doors

More detailed information about Phase II of OUTS and the restoration of Soane’s private apartments is now available to read on our website and we will be making regular updates on our new ‘Soane Blog’; including more detailed accounts of some the discoveries already made, such as Soane’s original wallpaper and the recreation of Soane’s stained glass.

The Duke of Grafton Staircase Appeal

Hugh Fitzroy, 11th Duke of Grafton KG (1919-2011), loved the Soane and was Chairman of its Trustees for 22 years from 1975 to 1997. To mark his exceptional years of duty and devotion, the Duke’s daughter and son-in-law, Lady Rose and Guy Monson, recently launched an appeal to restore the main Staircase of No.13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields in his memory with additional support from the Grafton family. The appeal will enable the Museum to carry out a series of interventions, large and small, which will restore Soane’s magnificent ‘geometric’ staircase to its original condition.  Ranging from the removal of the white gloss paint with which the 94 Portland stone steps were covered early in the twentieth century and the cleaning and repair of over 700 square feet of fictive giallo antico marble, to reattaching the broken fingers of a statue of Diana of Ephesus, this ambitious project to restore the entire Staircase – the largest ‘room’ in the Museum – should be complete by mid-2014.  When it is finished the staircase will once again be a fitting fulcrum for the Museum but will also stand as a fitting memorial to the Duke, who guided its fortunes so wisely for so long. 

Computer generated west view of the staircase of No.13 Lincoln's Inn Fields

Computer generated west view of the Staircase, realised by Curatorial Assistant, John Bridges

Lighting the Picture Room

Last month a new lighting scheme for the Picture Room was completed, 26 years after the previous installation. In 1988 lights were installed at high level on the west wall as part of a complete restoration of the Picture Room. Although they functioned fairly well the major problem with them was that when the planes were open they obscured the lights, making it impossible to see the paintings well on a dark afternoon or in the evening. Charles Marsden-Smedley, our lighting consultant, with his usual ingenuity and long experience, has designed a discreet new scheme which is installed high up within the central skylight and enables every wall to be properly lit.  The manufacture, testing and installation, carried out by Charles with Richard Voller of Richard Voller Design and ably overseen by Colin Wood, our House Manager, was challenging but with the help of our generous sponsors, Basil Postan, the Cochemé Trust and Finnis Scott we now have a modern and sensitive installation worthy of this spectacular interior.

Museum Enterprises

Our enterprises team have been working hard to ensure that the Soane Shop flourishes with spend per visitor up this year by 27%. Amongst the latest items on sale is a new Short Guide to the Museum, lavishly illustrated and representing, we think, very good value for money at £5.  The new guide is also available online []. In June 2013 we were pleased to welcome Xanthe Arvanitakis as the first Managing Director of our new trading company, which will be formally constituted in the early autumn, whilst in August we oversaw the completion of a contract agreement with Benugo, the operators of ‘FIELDS Bar & Kitchen’ []- the new café in the heart of Lincoln’s Inn Fields.  Under the agreement the café will operate in association with Sir John Soane’s Museum and make a regular and much-needed financial contribution towards our work.  In return, FIELDS Bar & Kitchen would benefit from the custom of many of our visitors, of which we have more than 100,000 each year.  We’re delighted with the arrangement although it has taken some months to come to fruition – including a nail-biting period waiting for the results of the London Borough of Camden’s tender process. So the next time you come to the Museum, why not also enjoy lunch at FIELDS Bar & Kitchen before or after your visit – certainly the tastiest way to help the Museum!

The new FIELDS bar and kitchen cafe in Lincoln's Inn Fields

The new ‘FIELDS Bar & Kitchen’ in Lincoln’s Inn Fields operating in association with the Museum is now open. Photograph: Richard Heald

‘Living Collections’

The Soane is a ‘living’ collection, whose relevance today is as great as it was when Soane assembled his collection of drawings, antiquities and works of art.  Not only is the Museum itself still inspiring architects, painters and sculptors as he intended but the drawings in his collection continuing to play a vital role in the saving, preservation and sympathetic alteration of the buildings they represent, as well as continue to inform the design of new buildings and the education of aspiring young architects – just as they did in Soane’s own lifetime. Our work to digitise the collection is providing ever-increasing access for audiences to engage with our collections at home, even in far-flung corners of the globe, and the Museum is inspiring people who have never visited and perhaps never will. Digitisation is also giving the collections a new lease of life as inspiration for a wide variety of designers and artists, enabling the Museum to use its collections as the springboard for its commercial enterprises.

As part of our strategy to face the challenges that the reduction in our Government grant-in-aid will provide, our aim is to develop unique new products ranging from wallpaper, textiles and ceramics to jewellery, fashion and stationery that can be sold exclusively in the Soane Shop. In order to help us generate much needed unrestricted income, exclusive licensing contracts have been agreed with various companies such as Adelphi for wallpaper designs, Chesney’s for Soane fireplace designs, Haddonstone for architectural ornaments, Fox & Chave for Adam inspired scarves and ties and Ossowski for the reproduction of Adam mirror designs. These companies have been given special access to the Museum’s collections and archives in order to develop new and exciting ranges of merchandise. It is an important time for the Museum, not just because some of these exceptional drawings will be brought to life for the first time, but also for the potential that our ‘living collections’ have to help the Museum support itself in the future.

Design for a silk scarf from the Fox and Chave range of Adam inspired gifts exclusive to the Soane Shop

Design for a silk scarf from the Fox & Chave range of Adam inspired gifts, sold exclusively in the Soane Shop


This article is from the autumn 2013 edition of The SOANE Magazine, which is free to all members of the Soane Supporters’ Circle.

Posted on 07 October 2013 in The SOANE Magazine
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