- The drawings from the office of Sir John Soane
- Main Year: 0
- Other Years: 1770 1771 1772 1774 1776 1777 1778 1779 1780
I would like to warmly thank Margaret Richardson for reading and commenting on this catalogue and, like Professor Pierre du Prey, for examining and discussing the drawings attributed to George Dance and Robert Baldwin.
My work was funded by a generous five-year grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Jill Lever, December 2009
John Soane was accepted as a student in architecture at the Royal Academy of Arts, London on 25 October 1771, six weeks after his eighteenth birthday. Founded in 1768, the Royal Academy established the Schools in the following year offering 'the first and only opportunity at that time in England to study architecture as a fine art within a formally constituted 'public' (i.e. free) school of art.... The architectural curriculum was designed to complement rather than to provide a substitute for what could only be learnt in the office of a successful architect'. Soane worked in the offices of George Dance (from 1768 to 1772) and Henry Holland (from 1772 to 1778). The R. A. Schools offered the architectural students 'an annual course of six illustrated lectures delivered on Monday evenings by the Professor of Architecture, Thomas Sandby; deriving what benefit they could from a similar course of more technical lectures given by the Professor of Perspective ...'. A library was available to the students on one day a week and they 'were entitled to compete for the Academy's prizes [of] one or more silver medals awarded annually for a measured, pen-and-wash drawing of a notable building within a ten-mile radius of London, and a gold medal "for the best Composition in Architecture, consisting of a Plan, Elevation and Section" .... All gold medal winners, whether they were painters, sculptors or architects, were entitled in turn to compete together for the Academy's highest accolade, a single three-year Travelling Scholarship funded by a royal pension of £60 per annum plus £30 travelling expenses each way.' (quoted from Nicholas Savage, 'A Royal Academy student in architecture', M. Richardson and M. Stevens (eds), John Soane architect: master of space and light, 1999, p.86)
Soane's student drawings (catalogued here) include two measured drawings, two five-hour designs and two Gold Medal designs, all with subjects chosen by the Royal Academy. He won a Silver Medal for his measured drawing of the Banqueting House, Whitehall (q.v.) and a Gold Medal for his design for a Triumphal Bridge (q.v.). Other designs with subjects determined by Soane rather than the Royal Academy allowed him to explore theoretical projects of a scale not possible in the everyday work of an architect's office. Such projects as a design for an 'Academy of Arts' and another for a mausoleum to the memory of James King (q.q.v) were hung at the Royal Academy exhibitions of 1776 and 1777 gaining Soane some attention.
Soane's winning of the Gold Medal of 1776, allowed him to compete for the Travelling Scholarship where he was again successful. He spent the next year or so in preparing his first publication Designs in architecture (published 1778) and readying himself for three years abroad. Soane left London on 18 March 1778 and arrived in Rome on 2 May.
A condition of the Royal Academy's travel award was that students were to send home drawings for a theoretical project for the annual exhibition. Aware of this, Soane had already chosen the subject of a British Senate House (q.v.) and began to make preliminary designs before he left; three drawings were sent from Rome and hung at the Royal Academy in 1779. A year after his early return to London in 1780, Soane exhibited three other ideal projects that he had worked on during his time abroad. Soane's fierce determination to succeed is evident throughout his years as an architectural student. The contribution of George Dance is discussed in several of the catalogue entries that follow.
Catalogued with these original, theoretical design drawings are copies by pupils or assistants in Soane's office that record an earlier design drawing usually to a smaller scale. In a few cases. the original drawings have not survived so that the copies are the only source for a design. Such'record' drawings are not related to the building process but are an exercise and may well be part of a pupil's professional education.
There are also perspectives of some of these early designs made by J.M.Gandy (1771-1843) both from 1798 to 1801 when he was in Soane's office and subsequently. More pictorial than the usual architectural perspective and beautifully shaded and lit, while they did not take liberties with Soane's designs, Gandy's watercolour drawings re-imagined the buildings they represented.
For sketch/notebooks, annotated guidebooks, and measured drawings that record Soane's travels in Italy and abroad see Sketchbooks data base and Soane in Italy: measured drawings made or copied, 1778-80.
Literature. P. du Prey, John Soane's architectural education 1753-80, 1977, Garland Publishing Inc., New York & London (dissertation presented to the Faculty of Princeton University 1972, chapter II et passim ); P. du Prey, John Soane: the making of an architect, 1982, (chapters 4, 5, 9 et passim) - both du Prey's dissertation and book cover in detail Soane's early years including his studentship at the Royal Academy and his tour abroad - M. Richardson and M. Stevens (eds), John Soane architect: master of space and light, 1999 (pp.78-113) ; N.Bingham, 'Architecture at the Royal Academy Schools, 1768 to 1836', pp.5-14, in The Education of the architect, Proceedings of the 22nd Annual Symposium of the Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain, 1993; D.Watkin, 'Sir John Soane's Grand Tour: its impact on his architecture and his collections', C.Hornsby (ed), The Impact of Italy: the Grand Tour and Beyond, British School at Rome, 2000, pp.101-119; J. Lever, 'The Soane-Dance collaboration, 1771-1799, Architectural History, volume 53, 2010, pp.163-190
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).
Contents of Soane's architectural education including theoretical designs made for the Royal Academy Schools and for exhibition at the Royal Academy, 1770-80, and in Italy, 1778-80
- Measured drawing of the river front of the Queen's Gallery, Old Somerset House, Strand, London for the Royal Academy Schools, dated 1770
- Measured drawing of the Banqueting House, Whitehall, London for the Royal Academy Schools Silver Medal competition, 1772 and copy, 1818 or after (2)
- Copies of a design for a nobleman's town house for the Royal Academy Schools Gold Medal competition, 1774 (4)
- Design for a Temple of Mars for the Royal Academy Schools, 15 November 1774
- Design for an 'Academy of Arts' exhibited at the Royal Academy, 1776, and copies 1795-1796 (4)
- Design for a Triumphal Bridge for the Royal Academy Schools Gold Medal competition 1776, later revised and sent to the Parma Academy, 1780, with preliminary designs by George Dance, 1776 and ? 1778, and later copies and perspectives, 1796-c.1827 (21)
- Rough preliminary designs, some attributed to George Dance, and design 'for a Mausoleum to the Memory of James King drowned June 9. 1776' , 1776-7, with J.M.Gandy perspectives, 1799-1800 (19)
- Design for an entrance to a church for the Royal Academy Schools, week of 25 November to 1 December, 1776
- Preliminary designs, some by George Dance, final design exhibited at the Royal Academy, record drawing, and perspectives by J.M.Gandy and George Bailey, for a British Senate House 1778-1779 and later (16)
- Preliminary, early, intermediate and late designs, copies, perspectives by J.M.Gandy and R.A. exhibition drawing, 1778-1799, for the so-called 'Chatham mausoleum' for the Earl of Chatham died 11 May 1778 (15)
- Preliminary design for a bath, ? 1778-1780
- Designs for a chapel and ? college, 1778-1780
- Copy of a design for a large villa, inscribed Rome, 11 November 1779
- Designs for a 'Castello d'acqua', August 1779-1780, with later rough alternative designs by George Dance (10)
- Copies of a design for an unidentified mausoleum on an X-plan, 1779-1780, with perspective by J.M.Gandy of a variant design, 1798-1800 (6)
- Alternative designs, and record drawing, for a (hunting) casino, c. 1780 (4)