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'Original Sketches / Miscellaneous / Architectural / Subjects': album with 195 drawings by Soane, Dance, Holland and others, dated c.1757 to 1818 (volume 42)

Album (much worn) with marbled boards and (broken) brown leather spine inscribed ‘Original Sketches / Miscellaneous / Architectural / Subjects’ and with blue sugar paper leaves (410 x 260) containing 195 drawings: (SM volume 42, under conservation).

The catalogue entries for the album follow the sequence formalised in 1968 by Dorothy Stroud (Soane Museum Inspectress 1945-84) with a pencilled number under each drawing (lower right-hand side). There is generally one drawing on each side of a leaf but some have more than one and some leaves show evidence of drawings having been removed on earlier occasions. The leaves were (in Soane’s time ?) numbered 1-100 from the back in brown pen so that the leaf with drawing 55 and following leaves were un-numbered.

George Bailey (Soane Museum curator, 1837-60) in his 1837 inventory, described the album as a ‘Scrap Sketch Book containing / very rough original Sketches / principally by Sir John Soane’. Of 195 drawings, 97 are by Soane, 33 by George Dance, 15 are from Henry Holland or his office, four from Robert Adam or his office, four from Gillows the furniture makers, three from Sir Henry Cheere or his workshop, two probably by James Peacock, one from the Coade workshop and 36 are by an unidentified hand – that of architect, mason, structural engineer, furniture designer or sanitary engineer. None of the drawings are signed except for one (42/141) on a letter from Walter Payne, Soane’s clerk of works at Betchworth Castle, 1800. Twenty-seven drawings are dated: the earliest 25 July 1773 (copy of a Robert Adam ceiling design, 42/56) and the latest 3 November 1818 (sketch designs for Government House, Upper Canada, 42/55), the majority are dated between 1790 and 1799. The earliest datable drawing is a design by George Dance for a villa, 1757-8 (42/165).

A majority of the drawings are described as ‘preliminary’, ‘sketch’ or ‘rough’ and were made freehand, 88 of them with a writing (quill) pen and generally on secretary rather than drawing paper. The drawings are small, some of them having been folded several times, perhaps for the pocket; 10 are folded to fit the album; 35 are on tracing paper.

The album is very worn, far more so than any other in Soane’s collection. These others were compiled by assistants and intended as carefully made records of Soane’s built and unbuilt designs that might be used for the education of pupils and to show to clients. ‘Original Sketches’ is a more personal record likely to have been assembled by Soane himself. The paper-covered boards contrast with the much larger heavy calf or vellum bound office volumes containing record drawings carefully mounted and captioned. The clumsy pasting, gluing and fixing with red sealing wax and the lack of captions suggest that Soane compiled this personal scrap book himself and consulted it very often. It is difficult to suggest a date for when the album was compiled since there is no obvious sequence, early and late drawings being mixed together. There are clusters of related drawings, for example, 51-4, 64-8 and 74-5 are for Claremont House and 170-3, 175-7, 187-192 are drawings by George Dance.

Designs by his first employer George Dance reveal the help Soane received as a student and exhibitor at the Royal Academy with designs for mausolea, British Senate House, ‘Castello d’acqua’ and other theoretical schemes as well as for the Bank of England - his first important public commission. Soane’s second employer (1772-8) was Henry Holland and the album includes tracings of 13 designs for ceilings, chimneypieces and doors for Holland’s Claremont House, built 1771-4. As Clerk of Works at St James’s Palace, Whitehall and Westminster from 1790 to 1794 Soane was answerable to the Board of Works of which Sir William Chambers was Surveyor General and there are helpful sketch designs for underpinning and for a foundation by the older man. Other designs for furniture, wall tablets and for a water closet came from specialist tradesmen and designers.

It is a very personal scrap book that includes Soane’s own sketch designs, for example, for (unexecuted) Gothic stables at Castle Eden, 1780, Saxlingham Rectory, 1784, lodge and entrance for Tyringham, 1794 and for a country house in an uncharacteristic Palladian style. Soane’s purpose in keeping these drawings and tracings was partly practical – there is even a prescription for the ague – but also sentimental. Hence Soane’s often very rough early ideas were kept though there must have been many more that found their way into the wastepaper basket. And while Dance’s contribution was never disclosed, Soane could not bring himself to throw away his mentor’s sketch designs.

Jill Lever (catalogued 21 May 2007-21 January 2008)

Since this catalogue of the 'Original Sketches' album was made, many of the drawings (in particular those for the Bank of England) have been catalogued and thus the related album catalogue entries have been transfered to their sequence in the 1352 drawings for the Bank of England (catalogued by Madeleine Helmer, 2010-2011) and elsewhere. Cross references have been made to all of the album drawings by Soane (or by George Dance for Soane) where the full catalogue entry can be found under the name of the building or theoretical scheme.

Jill Lever, July 2012
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