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George Dance's studies, c. November 1791-February 1792 (16)

This group of drawings by George Dance for Soane was first catalogued by Daniel Abramson as part of his PhD later published (without catalogue) as Building the Bank of England: money, architecture, society 1694-1942 in 2005. The Catalogue of the drawings of George Dance the Younger (1741-1825)... from the collection of Sir John Soane's Museum by Jill Lever was published in 2003 and includes these Bank Stock Office drawings (cat.[99]. 1-17, pp. 352-355). The following online catalogue (2010) by Emma Smith makes use of both sources.

Drawings 60-63 show various types of column-flue features for a triple-lantern scheme very similar to the preliminary designs Soane submitted to the Bank's directors on 24 November and 6 December 1791 (drawings 1-3, and Bank of England Museum drawings M39 i-iv). However Dance's studies consisted of three equal bays, thus ignoring the existing foundations.

Dance's studies could be interpreted as directly influencing Soane's proposal. On the other hand, Dance may be simply experimenting with the column-flue element of Soane's already elaborated scheme, an interpretation supported by these drawings' almost certain contemporaneity, based on similarity of drawing style and paper, with Dance's studies received by Soane on 11 December 1791 (drawings 64, 66, 68), post-dating Soane's proposals. However, there are differences. The slight fold marks of drawings 60-63 correspond with each other but differ from the more precise fold marks of drawings 64-66 and 68-69. Then too, drawings 60-63 are drawn loosely and rapidly as rough studies while drawing drawing 66 is to scale and carefully drawn out and drawings 64-66, 68-69 contain much more information as more serious studies. They also acknowledge the hall's existing dimensions and foundations. The true relationship between these studies and Soane's triple-lantern scheme remains problematic and probably unresolvable.

Drawings 64-67 move on from the column-flue design to a four-bay scheme. New piers are placed at every other existing column to make three main bays plus a half-bay at the north end. Replacing the central stove with a north-end chimney piece, and the lanterns with clerestory lunettes, also creates a more Roman basilica-like space with a stronger sense of directionality. Summerson was the first to attribute these drawings (64-67) to Dance. They may have been crucial in Soane's revision of his triple-lantern scheme to one that included clerestory lunettes.

Drawings 68-71 are remarkably close to the realised design. Summerson was the first to observe the relationship between Dance's studies and the executed work, noting the resemblance to similar Byzantine vaulting systems. However, the whole sequence of Dance's studies (drawings 59-68), not analysed by Summerson, suggests a design procedure based not so much on adopting specific formal precedents, but rather on a process of experimentation involving practical issues of planning, structure and lighting. Soane adapted Dance's scheme perhaps because of objections the Bank's directors registered to his initial triple-lantern proposal. He may also have favoured Dance's scheme aesthetically for its combination of monumentality, lightness, and centrality. Whatever the case, Dance's studies undeniably helped Soane move from his initial triple-lantern scheme towards the final design.

Examination shows that Dance's studies are physically a homogenous group. Most of them employ the same kind of paper, that is, a laid secretary paper with a Britannia watermark and crowned GR countermark. A common writing paper, it is an unusual support for Dance's designs and found elsewhere in only a few instances. All the studies were drawn freehand ('rough') in brown ink. Drawing style, fold marks and dates link (A) drawings 58-59 as early designs, (B) drawings 60-63 as studies for a triple-domed hall with a column-flue, (C) drawings 64-67 as studies for a four-bay and clerestory lunette design and (D) 60-71 as the lantern dome, lunette, and cross-vaults design; suggesting that Soane would have received Dance's studies in four instalments.
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