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Welcome to the Online Catalogue of Soane's sketchbooks


The online catalogue of Sir John Soane's sketchbooks was researched and written by Jill Lever, former curator of the Royal Institute of British Architects Drawings Collection, and author of Catalogue of the drawings of George Dance the Younger (1741-1825) and of George Dance the Elder (1695-1768): from the collection of Sir John Soane's Museum, Azimuth Editions, London, 2003.

I would like to warmly thank Pierre du Prey and Margaret Richardson for kindly reading and commenting on this catalogue, Susan Palmer for checking the transcriptions and arranging for translations of foreign language text and Samantha Wyndham for her administrative work.
My work was funded by a generous grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Jill Lever, January 2009

Of sketchbooks in general.
The earliest surviving example of a small book of blank pages for recording observations and designs is the vellum sketchbook of a French architect, Villard de Honnecourt fl.1225-50, in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris. The keeping of a sketchbook was more general from the Renaissance, and Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) advocated 'Make a note ... with a few lines in your little book which you should always take with you ... keep your sketches as your aids and teachers'. (Quoted, F. Ames-Lewis and J.Wright, Drawing in the Italian Renaissance workshop, 1983, p.101.) The earliest examples by British architects are all associated with travel and are: Inigo Jones's (mostly figurative) 'Roman sketchbook', 1614 and 1630s (at Chatsworth) and Nicholas Hawksmoor's topographical sketchbook of English towns, castles and churches, 1680-83 (RIBA Drawings Collection). John Adam's sketchbook of 1748, his brother Robert's of 1749-50 and James Stuart's North Italian topographical sketchbook, 1750 (all in the RIBA Drawings Collection) suggest that by this date sketchbooks were a natural part of an architect's equipment, combining drawings both for and of architecture and often with notes and lists.

Sketchbooks in Sir John Soane's Museum: a brief survey and introduction
There are a dozen or so sketchbooks in the Soane Museum. The term 'sketchbook' is used here of a ready made, bound volume on whose pages are drawn sketches that are sometimes accompanied by notes. Of a small size that can be slipped into a pocket, sketchbooks are often associated with travel though, for example, Henry Holland used his sketchbook of 1777 (q.v.) for surveys and swiftly recorded designs made on site to be worked out later in the drawing office.
There are six sketchbooks by Soane: five of them made between 1778 and 1782 of which three accompanied him on a tour of Italy and elsewhere, 1778-80. Those five sketchbooks are catalogued here while a later sketchbook made in Paris in 1819 awaits cataloguing.
J.M.Gandy (1771-1843) was associated with Soane as his perspective artist but his sketchbook of 1806 (SM volume 161) was an independent exercise. (Literature. I.Goodall and M.Richardson, 'A Recently discovered Gandy sketchbook' in Architectural History, Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain, pp.45-56, XLIV, 2001)
Other sketchbooks in the Soane Museum include two early ones by Nicholas Stone the Younger (d.1647) and his brother Henry (d.1653) with drawings (some dated) made in France and Italy between 1638 and 1642 (SM volumes 92 and 93). These are not pocket-sized being 310 x 215 and 306 x 195 and appear to have 18th century bindings. (Literature. W.L.Spiers, Note-book and account book of Nicholas Stone, master mason to James I and Charles I, printed for the Walpole Society, Oxford, 1919, pp.21-22, 24 et passim)
Further sketchbooks include those by artists: Arthur William Devis (1763-1822) (SM volume 21); Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-92) (SM volumes 32 and 33) though the attribution of the second sketchbook to him is now in doubt; and an unidentified 18th century French artist (SM volume 6).
An online catalogue by Alan Tait of the early drawings of Robert and James Adam and their circle (1742-63) that includes many drawings from dismembered sketchbooks is accessible online see



Digitisation of the Drawings Collection has been made possible through the generosity of the Leon Levy Foundation

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

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).