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London: Dulwich Picture Gallery, Southwark for the Governors of Dulwich College, 1811-1813 (108)

Soane's favourite subject: the story of Dulwich Picture Gallery (containing a catalogue of Sir John Soane's drawings for Dulwich), written by Francesco Nevola and published in 2000 by Paul Holberton Publishing, has been an invaluable source for the following online catalogue by Emma Smith, 2010.

The founder of Dulwich College, formally known as Alleyn’s College of God’s Gift, was the actor Edward Alleyn (1566-1626). It was erected around 1619. On 7 January 1811 Sir Peter Francis Bourgeois RA (1756-1811) died, bequeathing 360 paintings, that he and his friend Noel Desenfans (1744-1807) had collected, to Dulwich College. Desenfans and Bourgeois were London art dealers collecting paintings for King Stanislaus Augustus of Poland. However after the partition of Poland in 1795 Desenfans and Bourgeois retained the works as the deal was never completed. On his death Desenfans bequeathed his share to his partner and then when Bourgeois died he bequeathed the entire collection to the College. Bourgeois wanted the whole collection to ‘go down to Posterity for the benefit of the Public’. He also left £3,000 to the College of which £2,000 was to refurbish the existing gallery on the first floor of the west wing, along with an equal sum to be raised by the College. The College actually had £5,800 in their rebuilding fund. Bourgeois requested the building of a Mausoleum for himself, Noel Desenfans and at some later date, Mrs Desenfans, with the remaining £1,000. In his last testament Bourgeois recommended Soane as the architect. The College had some qualms because ‘for establishments such as ours, the Gothic was clearly the Style’ and Soane did ‘always object to do any thing in the Gothic Style’. Bourgeois responded by referring to the College chapel built by Inigo Jones and Soane was ‘one of his most enthusiastic admirers’. As a close friend of Bourgeois, Soane took the commission without a fee.

Following the survey drawings in section 1, Soane decided that the west wing was beyond restoration and proposed an extensive new development to the south of the original College, on a series of quadrangular plans (see section 2). However, at a meeting on 16 May 1811 it was decided that due to a shortage of funds the new development was to become a single block to the south west, combining the Gallery, Mausoleum and almshouses (see sections 4 and 5). Six almswomen lived in the west wing below the existing Gallery and as the wing was not going to be restored accommodation had to be provided for these women, along with the Gallery in the new block. Soane continued to include a south block on the plans, nevertheless, in the hope that there would be money in the future to complete the quadrangle. London stock brick was used for the bulk of the building, with Portland stone used for the base and the minimal decorative features: the entablature of the pilasters and the Greek key frieze. The Gallery block is an austere structure defined by strip pilasters, simple cornices and arched recesses. The Mausoleum has become the centrepiece on the west front with a more ornamental character as seen in both the realised and ideal designs of section 9. All the drawings for the Mausoleum demonstrate a fascination with the funerary architecture of antiquity.

When Desenfans died in 1807 Bourgeois had commissioned Soane to design a mausoleum to accommodate Desenfans’ body and eventually also the bodies of his wife, Margaret Desenfans, and Bourgeois himself, on the site of an old stable in the yard of his house in Charlotte Street, now Hallam Street, London. But the house was to lose its leasehold to the Duke of Portland. Therefore in his will Bourgeois requested the building of a new mausoleum at the College, similar to the one in Charlotte Street. The mausoleum at Charlotte Street was a small top-lit burial chamber, containing three sarcophagi, connected to a circular antechamber with Greek Doric columns supporting a shallow dome (SM 15/2/1). This was clearly a huge influence on the interior of the Mausoleum at the Dulwich Picture Gallery. At Charlotte Street, however, the mausoleum had been crammed into the backyard and so the exterior architecture had not been designed to the same extent as the interior. In contrast, at Dulwich the exterior design of the Mausoleum was very important because it became a key feature of the Gallery.

The kinds of drawings within the Dulwich scheme are of interest. The great number of alternative designs is unusual for Soane. This perhaps suggests more about the client than the architect. Soane was restricted by Bourgeois’ wishes in his will and the limited funds available. Bourgeois had requested that the Mausoleum was to be attached to the College chapel. The first designs adhere to this unassuming position of the Mausoleum (see SM 65/4/43, SM 65/4/6, SM 65/4/7, SM 65/4/8 and SM 65/4/13). In these designs the exterior is a simple square block. However later designs give the Mausoleum a more prominent position attached to the new Gallery, with a monumental structure (see SM 65/4/16, SM 65/4/41 and SM 65/4/37). There was much contention over the location, expense and structure of the new building. Even once the plan was approved at the meeting on 12 July 1811, there are annotations and alterations drawn in pencil over the plans (see section 4), including a sketch proposing to move the Mausoleum to a less prominent position. The office thus produced a selection of revised designs to meet the client’s needs.

Soane received criticism for the architecture of Dulwich Picture Gallery, in particular, for the lack of ornament, and its austerity compared with other contemporary buildings. The Reverend T F Dibdin wrote of the exterior: 'delightfully monstrous... a maeso-gothic, semi-arabic, moro-spanish, an anglico-norman - a “what you will” production!' (The Museum, volume 1, London, 1822). Soane responded by exhibiting his ideal designs for Dulwich at the Royal Academy, as seen in section 12, to illustrate the building he had wanted to execute. The title of SM P265 specifically refers to this criticism. The designs were compromised by financial difficulties, not by a lack of skill and imagination.

In 1813, the supervision of the completion of the new Gallery was entrusted to George Tappen (1771-1830), the ‘Architect and Surveyor to the Governors of Dulwich College Estate’ from 1805 to his death. The east and west wings were never actually demolished, as Soane had suggested, but were later refurbished. It was not until 18 July 1814 that arrangements were made to move the pictures from Charlotte Street to the Gallery and Dulwich Picture Gallery was opened to the public in 1817. Between 1815 and 1816 a new porch was added to the south end of the Gallery. It was a projecting brick porch with pilasters, which served as an alternative entrance until the 1860s. In 1870 Dulwich College moved to new premises and the almswomen were able to move back into the Old College, which freed up more space within the Gallery. Then in 1908 a central projecting porch was added to the east front, as envisaged in Soane’s earlier alternative designs (see section 7). This was to be an entrance hall and exhibition space. This additional porch was to have an unadorned arch to echo the blind arcade along the east front, flanked by paired brick pilasters. Further new gallery rooms were built either side of the entrance hall, as a single-storey extension across the entire east front. The blind arcade was recreated on the new wall.

In 1944 the Gallery was seriously damaged in an air raid, the art collection having fortunately been removed as a precaution. The Gallery was restored and re-opened in 1953, and has recently benefited from further redecoration and extensions.

In his office Soane had between four and six pupils at a time, with a paid assistant and clerks of works. At this stage in his career Soane rarely produced drawings himself. He would sketch designs and a pupil would draw them up formally. Soane would also often sketch alterations over drawings which a pupil would copy in a revised drawing. Pupilage usually began at the age of sixteen and lasted five years or more; they would work six days a week. The following pupils were in the office between 1811 and 1813:

George Bailey (1792-1860, pupil and office assistant 1806-1837, curator 1837-1860)
George Allen Underwood (1793-1829, pupil 1807-1815)
Robert Dennis Chantrell (1793-1872, pupil 1807-1814)
John Buxton (pupil 1809-1814)
George Basevi (1794-1845, pupil 1810-1816)
Charles Tyrrell (1795-1832, pupil 1811-1816)

The primary sources for the chronology of the design are found in Sir John Soane’s drawing collection and archive. They are the drawings themselves: SM 65/4/1-63, 65/5/1-3, 15/1/1-5, 15/2/2-11, volume 81/ 1-27, volume 60 folio V/183, P252 and P265; the Soane Note Books and Day Books for 1811-1813; the building accounts, Bill Book G, folios 413-442; ‘The last testament of Sir Francis Bourgeois’, Private Correspondence, IX/D/2/2, cited in Waterfield, Soane and Death, pp. 123-125.

The most important secondary sources are given in date order:

A.T. Bolton, The Works of Sir John Soane, 1924, pp. 76-82; G. T. Mellinghoff, 'Soane's Dulwich Picture Gallery Revisited', in architectural monographs: John Soane, 1983, pp. 77-101; C. Davies, 'Masters of building: the first independent purpose-built picture gallery: Dulwich Picture Gallery', Architect's Journal, April 1984, pp. 44-65; D. Stroud, Sir John Soane architect, 1984, pp. 200-203; G. Waterfield (ed.), Soane and after: the architecture of Dulwich Picture Gallery, Dulwich Picture Gallery exhibition catalogue, 1987; T. Willmert, 'Heating methods and their impact on Soane's work: Lincoln's Inn Fields and Dulwich Picture Gallery', Journal of Society of Architectural Historians, 52/1, March 1993, pp. 26-58; A. Ballantyne, 'First principles and ancient errors: Soane at Dulwich', Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain, 37, 1994, pp. 96-111; G. Waterfield (ed.), Soane and death: the tombs and monuments of Sir John Soane, Dulwich Picture Gallery exhibition catalogue, 1996; M. Richardson & M. Stevens (ed.), John Soane architect: master of space and light, Royal Academy of Arts exhibition catalogue, 1999; F. Nevola, Soane's favourite subject: the story of Dulwich Picture Gallery, 2000

There are also some drawings at the Dulwich Picture Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum; DPG G44 and V&A 3306.176, 3307.107-109.
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