- English Baroque Drawings: architecture, sculpture and garden design
The proposal is for a room with a smaller, nearly square compartment at one end, and a rectangular compartment at the other. The design presents alternatives for the painted decoration of the decoration of both compartments. The small compartment has an octagonal central containing a trumpet-blowing angel and alternatives for the oval shaped corner compartments of the coved ceiling: large, gadrooned vases on the right, and baskets of flowers on the left. The larger compartment has an elongated octagonal central panel decorated with the figure of a naked god on a cloud upturning a large, shell-like cornucopia, with a gesturing cupid figure to his left. The outer panels are drawn in alternatives on the long axis, the upper scheme (in the original sense of the drawing) being a trompe-l'oeil perspective of an attic story with semi-circular lunettes in the side panels containing a vase and basket of fruit (on the short sides) and a winged cupid figure and a small animal (on the long side), and the lower scheme a flatter design with large roundels decorated with flower motifs in the corners and a smaller roundel in the middle of the long side. The cornucopia motif on the larger panel suggests a dining room with an alcove at one end. Alternatively, it could be a design for a large saloon, with an alcove for music at one end.
Gordon Higgott, 2006
The following comprises an update to this catalogue, made in 2022:
Previously attributed to Sir James Thornhill himself, this drawing has since been reattributed to an unknown member of his circle thanks to research undertaken by Richard Stephens on Thornhill's pupil, the draughtsman Thomas Carwitham. Stephens has found that this drawing is one of five by a consistent unknown early eighteenth-century draughtsman working broadly in the style of Thornhill. There are three ceiling studies: this drawing at Sir John Soane's Museum, plus one at the British Museum: 1967,0617.1, and another at the Yale Center for British Art: B1975.2.595. The British Museum and Yale drawings also have related staircase studies: BM 1967,0617.2 and YCBA B1975.2.596.
On this subject Stephens has written the following which forms an excerpt from his forthcoming publication on Carwitham:
A staircase design in the British Museum (1967,0617.2) might at first glance be taken for a drawing by Thomas Carwitham, but for discrepancies in the handling of the pen and brush, and most obviously in the figure drawing in the bust at the ground-floor level and the caryatid above it. Although the spaces for history paintings are left blank, scant attention is paid to the decoration either, such as the floral basket overdoor, or the floral garlands. Indeed, alternative solutions are offered (eg, the figurative and floral approaches flanking the doorways) making this a sheet of decorative options rather than a worked-out design. The author was presumably a student of architectural painting still learning the basics of the discipline: the use of wash to indicate shade is scrappy, especially in the two door openings and in the fluting of the pilaster towards the top of the stairs and, at the foot of the staircase, the join with the wall space to the left of the door is awkward. A drawing at Yale (B1975.2.596) should be understood as its pair, for it advances further decorative options in the same interior space. Three ceiling designs, at Yale (B1975.2.595), the Soane Museum (SM vol. 111/55) and the British Museum (1967,0617.1) adopt the same approach as the staircase drawings, in offering a menu of decorative approaches. The strongest drawing of the five, in the Soane Museum, hitherto bore a full attribution to Thornhill, but they are all by the same anonymous student, as is apparent by comparing the floral baskets that appear in all three with the British Museum staircase. A thread of animal humour connects several of the drawings too: a dog in his kennel in the Yale staircase, the same cat in the Soane and Yale ceilings, and what appears to be dog trampling on the basket of flowers in the British Museum ceiling. The pairs of drawings at the British Museum and Yale were also accessioned consecutively, which argues for a connection [BM came from Ben Weinreb (1912-99) the Yale pair from John Harris (1931-2022)]. For Thomas Carwitham, the historical composition is the central purpose of his drawing, with architectural elements serving only to frame and contextualise. However this anonymous student's lack of concern with history painting is evident, for the compartments reserved for it are blank in both staircases and in all three ceilings they are filled with single figures. We can speculate that, just as the student of history painting might practice his facility in drawing postures in a sheet such as Carwitham's Studies of River Gods (V&A), so perhaps the student of architectural painting would demonstrate his awareness of the competing decorative approaches to an interior space, and that this is the function of these five drawings.
Richard Stephens, 2022
Sir John Soane's collection includes some 30,000 architectural, design and topographical drawings which is a very important resource for scholars worldwide. His was the first architect’s collection to attempt to preserve the best in design for the architectural profession in the future, and it did so by assembling as exemplars surviving drawings by great Renaissance masters and by the leading architects in Britain in the 17th and 18th centuries and his near contemporaries such as Sir William Chambers, Robert Adam and George Dance the Younger. These drawings sit side by side with 9,000 drawings in Soane’s own hand or those of the pupils in his office, covering his early work as a student, his time in Italy and the drawings produced in the course of his architectural practice from 1780 until the 1830s.
Browse (via the vertical menu to the left) and search results for Drawings include a mixture of Concise catalogue records – drawn from an outline list of the collection – and fuller records where drawings have been catalogued in more detail (an ongoing process).