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image P267

Joseph Michael Gandy (1771 - 1843)

A Bird’s-eye view of the Bank of England

Pen and watercolour on paper in a Soane frame

Height (unframed): 845mm
Width: 1400mm

Museum number: P267

Curatorial note

John Soane exhbiited this watercolour by Gandy at the Royal Academy (no.1052) in 1830 to illustrate the results of his nearly forty-five years of labour on the Bank of England using the straightforward title 'A bird's eye view of the Bank of England'. It was accompanied by the quotation 'Je vais enlever les toits de cette superbe édifice national ... le dedans va se découvrir à vos yeux de même qu'on voit le dedans un pâté dont on vient d'ôter la croûte', Le Diable Boiteux, tom. I, chap.3 [I want to lift the roof of that wonderful national buidling. The interior will be revealed to you like a meat pie with the crust removed'. The quotation was from a novel by Alain René Le Sage, the popular author of Gil Blas, in which an airborne devil carries the story's protagonist over the rooftops of a city to expose the human follies below. Soane had finished his Bank, 'the pride and boast of my life', and this view was exhibited at the Royal Academy to celebrate the completion of his masterpiece. Three years later he retired, 45 years after his appointment.

This drawing has often been referred to as ‘The Bank in ruins’ but in fact this is not a description used by Soane or Gandy. It is, in technical terms a cutaway axonometric and it imaginatively conflates conventions of the Renaissance aerial cutaway perspective with the eighteenth-century Piranesian ruinscape to create an ambiguous image of the Bank of England both seemingly in ruins and under construction. Gandy's view aggrandises the institution and its building as imperial monuments and celebrates Soane's poetic genius as well as the professionalism of the Bank's fireproof structural systems. Their superiority over the flimsy brick and plaster construction so typical of Regency London is revealed for all to see.

As Daniel Abrahamson explains 'In this image - a combination of plan, section and elevation - the totality of Soane's achievement is represented: interior and exterior, construction and decoration, substructure and superstructure, all publicly revealed like a model on a table-top'. Soane must have expected viewers of this work, when they saw it first at the Academy in 1830, to interpet it as a visualisation of future ruin. It is inescapably reminiscent of the ruins of Pompeii and may well have been directly inspired by the cork model of those ruins acquired by Soane in 1826. When Soane placed that model in its final location in his new Model Room in 1834 he hung a plan of the Bank of England nearby - almost certainly to highlight the similarities between the two and to emphasize that viewed in centuries to come the ruins of his Bank would be, as he imagined it, as impressive and iconic as those of ancient Rome itself.

Provenance help-art-provenance

Executed by Gandy for John Soane in 1830.

Literature

Daniel Abrahamson, PhD thesis 'The Building of the Bank of England', (Harvard, 1993), pp.425-9.
Margaret Richardson & MaryAnne Stevens (eds), John Soane Architect: Master of Space and Light, exhibition catalogue, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1999, p.219 and cat.119 (p.222)
Visions of Ruin, exhibition catalogue, Sir John Soane's Museum, 1999, cat.35, p.49


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