Art History now with Sir John Soane

On Friday 01 September, our Art History course, led by Jennifer Mills, resumed with a look at the works of art collected by Sir John Soane, and exhibited in his home in Lincoln’s Inn Fields.

Jennifer started with a brief update on her trip across Europe, which had included the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua with its Giotto Frescoes (1303-1305), the Donatello Horseman in Padua, the Vermeer paintings in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, and the works in the Franz Hals Museum in Haarlem, the various artists in the Mauritshaus Museum in The Hague, a narrative that cleverly linked into the themes of her previous course.

This time, we are hearing about the Art Galleries in London, starting with the Sir John Soane Museum, and then moving on to the Dulwich Picture Gallery, the Royal Academy, the Wallace Collection, Kenwood House, and ending with the Greenwich Maritime Museum.

Jennifer described how the three houses in Lincoln’s Inn Fields all had different histories before coming together to form a museum. The three houses are packed with exhibits, many from Sir John Soane’s professional interest as an architect. The museum was saved from being sold off by his profligate son after his death (1837) by an Act of Parliament in 1833. There are some 30,000 architectural drawings, as well as many paintings in the Picture Room – a studiolo hung with paintings on cupboard doors that open to reveal more paintings on the inside of the doors and on the walls behind.

Of particular interest is the collection of Hogarth paintings and engravings, and Jennifer described how Hogarth had published the prints to make money using the paintings as advertisements. The Hogarth pictures led us to the Coram Foundation – believed to be the first public art gallery in London – and William Hogath’s involvement with the Coram Foundation for foundling children. We followed through the Rake’s Progress, the Harlot’s Progress, and examined Beer Street and Gin Lane before ending up in Bedlam.

With excellent photographs and her humorous and absorbing anecdotes, two hours had passed in a flash. The next session is on 15 September 2023, and will be based on the Dulwich Picture Gallery.

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