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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)

Soane's 'Memoirs of the professional life of an architect between the years 1768 and 1835', privately printed in 1835 (pp.13-14) relates, 'I cannot pass on without noticing an event connected with the Triumphal Bridge, which will never be erased from my mind. During the time I was engaged on that work, which was only before and after office hours and on Sunday, one of my schoolfellows having attained the age of twenty-one years, myself and another agreed to celebrate that event with him at Greenwich. When the day arrived I found myself so pressed for time to finish my drawings, that I requested to be excused. The two friends proceeded on their excursion, and after dinner went on the water in a small boat, which was unfortunately upset, and one of the party was drowned. Thus as, like my regretted friend, I could not swim, the circumstances of my being employed on the drawings of the [triumphal] bridge preserved me from a watery grave.'

James King was drowned on Sunday, 9 June 1776 and in the following year Soane exhibited 'An elevation of a [three storey] mausoleum, to the memory of James King, Esq.' at the Royal Academy. Soane's Designs in architecture ..., published in 1778, included a part-plan and an elevation of a 'Design for a [two storey] Mausoleum to the Memory of James King Esq. drowned June 9, 1776' plates xxxvii -xxxviii. Thus Soane's design was made with exhibition at the Royal Academy in mind as were several other of his designs made in Italy, 1778-80.

It has been difficult to establish who drew what among the sketch designs (SM volume 42/95, SM volume 42/90, SM volume 42/96, SM volume 42/86, SM volume 42/88, SM volume 42/92, SM volume 42/113, SM volume 42/89, SM volume 42/93, SM volume 42/85, SM volume 42/94, SM volume 42/87 and SM volume 42/81) that precede the final design (SM 45/1/16). An assumption has been made that most are by George Dance with some by Soane. The most striking of these drawings are SM volume 42/86 and SM volume 42/88 in a Greek Doric style, clearly by the same hand but not Soane's. They had been thought to be by John Flaxman (P.du Prey, John Soane, the making of an architect, 1982, p.345, fn.43) but Professor David Bindman (e-mail, 2 March 2006) wrote 'I suppose the attribution to Flaxman must derive from comparison with the drawing by him in the V&A which is said to be a parody of the King monument. In fact the handling of the latter seems to have nothing to do with the drawings [at the Soane Museum]. It is not impossible that they were done by Flaxman but there is no evidence to point that way that I know of.'

At present, sketch designs SM volume 42/95 and SM volume 42/90 are given to Soane, SM volume 42/96, SM volume 42/86, SM volume 42/88, SM volume 42/92, SM volume 42/113, SM volume 42/89, SM volume 42/93, SM volume 42/85 and SM volume 42/81 are attributed to Dance, SM volume 42/94 and SM volume 42/87 could be Soane or Dance. No doubt, these attributions will change when more evidence is available.

The initial designs for the mausoleum (SM volume 42/95 and SM volume 42/90) were an eclectic mixture of Egyptian and 'Moresque' styles. Something similar seems to have provoked amusement from Soane's friends. Hence the satirical drawings by a fellow Royal Academy student John Flaxmean for 'A Mausoleum adorn'd with Colossal Sculpture being / an attempt at something in a new Style' (inscribed by George Dance 'For the Exhibition of 1777') and another with a pagoda-like design for a 'Mausoleum for Ching Chang Chow / Emperor of China' (Victoria & Albert Museum: V&A: 3436.110 recto and verso, recto reproduced du Prey, 1982, fig.4.12). Another drawing, attributed by this cataloguer to George Dance, inscribed 'Design for a public Privy' and with several lavatorial references is also in the Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A: 3436.11), and was presumably made at the same time as Flaxman's efforts (reproduced A.Rowan, Robert Adam:catalogue of architectural drawings in the Victoria and Albert Museum (sic), 1988, pp.45-6).

A further Dance design at the Soane Museum titled 'A surprising antique Edifice in the Middle of the Desart of Arabia / adjoin'd wth Colossal figures of exquisite sculpture' (SM 69/8/2, J.Lever, Drawings of George Dance the Younger ..., 2003, catalogue [112]) also satirizes Soane's immature first designs.

The sketch designs take the idea of a domical centre and a base with bold semicircular openings seen in SM volume 42/90 and experiment with a coved entrance and a pyramidal rather than a domical roof, then stretch the design with a domed centre linked by colonnades to pyramidal pavilions and then subtract the colonnades and made the design more compact. A comparison between the later sketch designs (SM volume 42/93, SM volume 42/85, SM volume 42/94 and SM volume 42/87) and Soaneā€™s final design (SM 45/1/16) and as visualised by J.M.Gandy (SM volume 60/205, SM volume 60/206 and SM P271) show that perhaps the most obvious difference lay in the additional colonnaded storey that gave extra accommodation though Dance's design for the entrance front (SM volume 42/96) was three-storeyed.

Related drawings at the Victoria and Albert Museum: see P.du Prey, Sir John Soane, 1985, in series of 'Catalogues of architectural drawings in the Victoria and Albert Museum', catalogue 21-4.

Literature: J.Summerson, 'Sir John Soane and the furniture of death', Architectural Review, CLXIII, 1978, pp.147, 345 fn.43; P.du Prey, John Soane's architectural education 1753-80, 1977, pp.85-6; P.du Prey, John Soane: the making of an architect, 1982, pp.94-7; J. Lever, 'The Soane-Dance collaboration, 1771-1799, Architectural History, volume 53, 2010, pp.163-190.

Jill Lever, July-September 2005