If you haven’t visited the Sir John Soane’s Museum for a while, you’re in for a surprise (reports Andrew Humphreys
). It’s more beguiling and madcap than ever. Just last month, a seven-year, £7m programme of restoration concluded that has returned the unique Georgian house-cum-museum to the original design of neoclassical architect and collector Sir John Soane.
The latest stage of the restoration (the third and final phase) has involved recreating the lobby off the famed Breakfast Room, putting back in place around 100 pieces of art, most of which were removed and put into storage during the tenure of James Wild, curator of the museum in the 1880s. Now considered a bit of a vandal, Wild tinkered with the museum, knocking down walls and moving things about. A big part of the restoration has been about righting Wild’s wrongs. Curators used original watercolours painted by Soane’s draughtsman Joseph Gandy, along with the architect’s original detailed inventory, to work out the correct placing for the bewildering profusion of sculptures, casts, mosaics and architectural oddments.
The re-erection of a missing wall to restore the integrity of the Dome Area, the jam-packed multi-levelled space that forms the heart of the museum, has created a new room called the Foyle Space. Currently used to detail the restorations, in future it will serve as a temporary exhibition space.
This latest phase of work has also restored Soane’s flag-stone floored basement kitchens, with their two great iron ranges and crockery cupboard filled with his original blue-and-white China. This mirrors earlier work done on the upper floors: in 2015, rooms that had been used as office space for the museum’s administrators were restored to how they would have been in Soane’s time, when they served as his morning room, bedroom and ‘model’ room. The colour and sumptuousness of the fabrics, carpets and woodblock-printed wallpaper (recreated especially by Adelphi of New York) contrasts with the grey stone tones of the floors below.
Entrance to the museum remains free, although to visit the upper floors you have to sign up to a (free) guided tour. Find out more at www.soane.org