The Genius of Sir John Soane

It is ironic in this age of quick fixes that many are seeking solace in the intense, imaginative world of the late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century architect Sir John Soane, whose stripped-down classicism, loved for so long by purists, has witnessed an extraodinary revival in recent years. Of course this would have delighted the man himself. He rose meteorically on the wings of his talent, cutting through the social fabric of Georgian England—beginning as the son of a bricklayer, knighted by the King in 1831, and awarded the gold medal for architecture in 1835. He established the Sir John Soane Museum at 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields by private act of parliament in 1833, precisely to keep his name in the history books but also to pass on to future generations his ideas about perspective, proportion, ornament, light, and beauty. “The idea was that we all learn from our mistakes so that in the end, over the years, we get perfection of architecture,” says Stephen Astley, curator of Soane’s drawing collection. “This is very much a didactic museum, here to educate the wider public. The house works on so many levels. It doesn’t only showcase his remarkable collection, but it also marketed his architecture.

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