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  • image P229

William Owen (1769 - 1825)

Portrait of John Soane Junior and George Soane, 1805


Oil on canvas

Height: 123.4cm
Width: 98.4cm

Museum number: P229

Curatorial note

This portrait of Soane’s two sons by William Owen (1769-1825) was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1805, together with a portrait of Soane himself, also by Owen, which also hangs in the South Drawing Room, to the right of the fireplace.

John (on the right), who was eighteen when this was painted, had gone up to Trinity College, Cambridge, the previous autumn and is shown wearing his university gown and holding his mortar board. He was already exhibiting symptoms of the tuberculosis that was to lead to his early death at the age of thirty-eight in 1823, and although he showed some talent for architecture and spent a period as a pupil in the office of Joseph Michael Gandy, he lacked the physical robustness and perhaps also the application to succeed in the profession.

George, who was fifteen at the time of the portrait, joined his elder brother at Cambridge, where began his habit of incurring heavy debts which became the scourge of his later life, and which, Soane believed, led to his mother’s early death in 1815 along with his authorship of anonymous articles criticising his father’s architecture which she described as her ‘death blow’. George’s behaviour led to a permanent estrangement from his father and to his being cut out of his father’s will. He tried but failed to prevent the passing of the Soane Museum Act in 1833. ‘Smitten with a passion for dramatic writing’, as Soane described him, George enjoyed some measure of critical if not financial success, with some eighteen published works to his name when he died, aged seventy-one, in 1860.

Provenance help-art-provenance

This portrait was commissioned by Soane who made an initial payment in December 1804 and paid the balance in February 1805. Exhibited Royal Academy 1805, no. 285.


Soane, Description, 1830, pp.22 and 43
Soane, Description, 1835, p.74
New Description, 2007, pg. 76 and 98

Exhibition history

Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1805

If you have any further information about this object, please contact us: worksofart@soane.org.uk