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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)

It was essential that Rome prize winners, while abroad, sent designs for exhibition at the Royal Academy. Failure to do so could lose them their grants. Aware of this requirement, Soane began a scheme for a ‘House of Parliament’ even before he left England on 18 March 1778. Hence the note on SM 45/1/9 recto - '[made] before I went abroad !’.

It is difficult to place in a correct sequence the preliminary drawings (SM 45/1/12, SM volume 42/120, SM volume 42/162 recto and verso, SM volume 42/172 recto and SM 45/1/13 recto) that follow and there must have been many more first thoughts. Of these drawings, SM volume 42/120, SM volume 42/172 recto and SM 45/1/13 recto are in George Dance's hand. SM volume 42/120 was probably made before Soane's departure and taken by him to Italy. SM volume 42/172 recto is an intermediate design while SM 45/1/13 recto is so highly developed and close to the final design that it must have been sent to Soane (there are fold marks) after he arrived (the drawing is dated by Soane 10 August 1778).

An assumption might be made that all of the surviving preliminary drawings by both Soane and Dance were made in London. Except that SM volume 42/162 recto and verso (rough plans) has a note by Soane about the bad road between Capua and Caserta which implies that it was made in Italy. What cannot be disregarded is that George Dance's SM 45/1/13 recto has all the elements of the final design sent by Soane to the Royal Academy. Soane was left to choose between the alternative forms of the wings and the treatment of the principal elevation and only the interior as shown in the section, varied from Dance's design. Soane seems to have had help with the drawing up of the final scheme exhibited at the Royal Academy (SM 45/1/35, SM 13/2/5 and SM 13/2/4) since the elevation and section are very finely rendered and shaded while the plan has the earliest example of sans serif lettering among his drawings.

The term 'Senate House' perhaps came from an 'anonymous but widely circulated pamphlet of 1771 entitled Critical Observations on the Buildings and Improvements of London ... that contained a proposal for rebuilding [Westminster] Palace as a 'Senate House'. (S.Sawyer, Delusions of National Grandeur', Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, sixth series, volume 13, 2003, p.240).

Related drawings at the Victoria and Albert Museum: see P. du Prey, Sir John Soane,1985, in series of 'Catalogues of the architectural drawings in the Victoria and Albert Museum', catalogue 9-11.

Literature. P.du Prey, John Soane's architectural education 1753-80, 1977, pp.126-151; P.du Prey, John Soane: the making of an architect, 1982, pp.168-72; D.Watkin, ‘Sir John Soane’s Grand Tour: its impact on his architecture and his collections’ in C.Hornsby (ed), The Impact of Italy: the Grand Tour and Beyond, British School at Rome, 2000, pp.101-11; J. Lever, 'The Soane-Dance collaboration, 1771-1799, Architectural History, volume 53, 2010, pp.163-190.

Jill Lever, November 2004