Soane’s Life and Times: 1812-1813. Part II: Professional and Academic Life

2013 marks a significant date for Sir John Soane’s Museum, as it heralds the 200th anniversary since Sir John and his family took up residence at No.13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields.  Over the coming months we are looking forward to celebrating this important milestone in the Museum’s history by exploring aspects of Soane’s life during 1812-13.  A fascinating and glittering period, the year that Soane established his now world famous house museum was also one of political, economic and social turmoil both in Britain and abroad.  We are grateful to Gisela Gledhill, author of Soane’s Life & Times: 1812-1813 (and edited by Philippa Stockley), to allow us to feature her work on this website.

Drawing of the Lothbury Facade of the Bank of England

Drawing of the Bank of England, the Lothbury Façade, as first built by Soane in 1795-96 by Joseph Michael Gandy, c. 1801


Professional and Academic Life

These were busy years for Soane. In 1788 he had been appointed architect to the Bank of England, whose rebuilding featured prominently in 1812-1813. Since 1807, he had been Clerk of Works at The Royal Hospital in Chelsea where he was designing and overseeing the construction of a new infirmary. For Dulwich College he designed a gallery for paintings bequeathed by his friend, the landscape painter Sir Francis Bourgeois. The design included a mausoleum for Sir Francis and his friends Mrs and Mrs Desanfans.  He was also doing work at Walmer Church for Lord Liverpool (who became Prime Minister in June 1812), additions to Everton House in Bedfordshire for Mr William Astell, a monument for painter Philippe de Loutherbourg at Chiswick churchyard, houses in Park Lane, Fleet Street and Dover Street, work for the Horner family at Mells Park in Somerset and at Ringwood House in Kent for the Reverend John Monins. In December 1813 Soane became Grand Superintendent of Works of the Grand Master’s Lodge, having become a freemason, whilst another public appointment was as Architect to the Office of Works jointly with John Nash and Robert Smirke.

Dulwich Picture Gallery Design, showing the building amongst a wooded scene

Preliminary design in perspective of Dulwich Picture Gallery, by Joseph Michael Gandy, c.1812


As Professor of Architecture

Soane was elected an Academician of the Royal Academy on 10 February 1802 and Professor of Architecture on 28 March 1806. He had received his professional training from founding members of the Academy and had gone on the Grand Tour with its financial support. As Professor he had to give six lectures a year, the preparation of which took up much time. The first course was delivered from 1809 to 1812 and the second in 1815. He was paid £60 for each course and they were refreshed and repeated until 1836. The first series was interrupted after the fourth lecture on 29 January 1810. In that lecture he criticised some new buildings, notably the Greek Revival Royal College of Surgeons in Lincoln’s Inn Fields by George Dance, and Robert Smirke’s design for Covent Garden Theatre, rebuilt following a fire, on the grounds that the choice of a sacred building (the Parthenon) as a model for the façade offended against his design philosophy.

View of New Theatre in Covent Garden by Robert Smirke

View of Smirke’s new theatre in Covent Garden, 1809, engraving.  Courtesy of the British Museum


'A duty imperious'

Soane’s criticism caused a furore at the Royal Academy. Its rules were altered, banning any comment or criticism of the work of a living artist in lectures delivered there. This was at odds with his view that criticism of the work of a living artist was a duty imperious. After the dispute was resolved in January 1813 he became more cautious about criticising buildings by living architects, but continued to express his views about contemporary design. He remained a loyal member of the Academy and regularly attended lectures by other leading Academicians such as JMW Turner, John Flaxman and Henry Fuseli


Coming Next: Part III: London, City of Change

Posted on 19 August 2013 in Soane's Life and Times: 1812-1813
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