Sir John Soane (1753-1837) was one of England's most original and distinguished architect in the neoclassic idiom.
The son of a bricklayer, John Soane was born on Sept. 10, 1753, at Goring-on-Thames, Reading. He entered the office of George Dance, Jr., surveyor to the city of London, in 1768, and in 1771 was admitted to the Royal Academy Schools, where he was awarded the Silver and Gold Medals. He was an assistant to Henry Holland from 1772 to 1778 and was probably responsible for designing the Entrance Hall at Claremont House, Surrey, rebuilt by Holland for Lord Clive.
In 1778 Soane traveled to Italy on a king's studentship. There he met the eccentric bishop of Derry (later Marquess of Bristol) and in 1780 returned to England with him, encouraged by dazzling promises of elaborate building commissions. These did not materialize, but eventually Soane established a successful practice, chiefly building small houses in Norfolk and Suffolk. In 1788 he was selected as surveyor to the Bank of England.
In 1806 Soane became professor of architecture at the Royal Academy, and from 1807 until his death he delivered a famous series of elaborately illustrated lectures. In 1814 he became one of three "attached architects" to the Board of Works.
Soane's outstanding achievement was the rebuilding of the Bank of England (1788-1830), in which he gave the fullest expression to the highly personal style that he evolved. This was a primitive kind of neoclassicism, in which he abandoned the conventional orders of columns, entablature, and pediment in the interiors and replaced them by a system of flat wall surfaces with shallow recessions and with a severe linear ornament of incised lines and fluting. Structurally he made great use of shallow domes, clerestory lighting, segmental arches, pendentives, lantern lights, and mirror friezes, by these means often creating a sense of infinity within a confined space. His facades, in which he employed the classical orders, possess great dignity and elegance.
Other important works are Shotesham, Norfolk (1785-1788), Chillington, Staffordshire (1786-1789), the Chapel at Wardour Castle, Wiltshire (1788), Tyringham, Bucking-hamshire (1793-1800), Aynhoe Park, Northamptonshire (1800-1804), Pitzhanger Place at Ealing (now the Public Library, 1800-1803), Moggerhanger, Bedfordshire (1806-1811), and Dulwich College Picture Gallery in London (1811-1814).
Soane designed his own house in Lincoln's Inn Fields, London (1812-1813), and adapted it as a museum "for the study of architecture and the allied arts"; his collection of drawings, models, casts, paintings, sculpture, antiquities, and architectural fragments survives intact, and the house is now a public museum. He died there on Jan. 20, 1837.
Further Reading on Sir John Soane
Soane's own work, The Union of Architecture, Sculpture and Painting (1827), contains a full description of Sir John Soane's Museum. The most detailed monograph on Soane is Arthur T. Bolton, The Works of Sir John Soane (1924). Harry J. Birnstingl, Sir John Soane (1935), is a brief monograph containing good photographs of the Bank and other principal works. The excellent work by Dorothy Stroud, The Architecture of Sir John Soane (1961), incorporating the most recent research, is particularly well illustrated with modern photographs, including many of the country houses not shown in other works. A general account of Soane's style and influence is in John Summerson, Architecture in Britain, 1530-1830 (1963).
Additional Biography Sources
Du Prey, Pierre de la Ruffiniere, John Soane, the making of an architect, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982.
Du Prey, Pierre de la Ruffiniere, John Soane's architectural education, 1753-80, New York: Garland Pub., 1977.
Watkin, David, John Soane, London: Academy Editions; New York: St. Martin's Press, 1983.