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  • image P228
SM P228. ©Sir John Soane's Museum, London. Photo: Art UK

William Owen RA (1769 - 1825)

Portrait of Sir John Soane, 1804


Oil on canvas

Height: 122.6cm
Width: 98cm

Museum number: P228

On display: South Drawing Room
All spaces are in No. 13 Lincoln's Inn Fields unless identified as in No. 12, Soane's first house. For tours https://www.soane.org/your-visit

Curatorial note

Portrait of John Soane at the age of 51. Here Soane is portrayed as a cultivated architect at the height of his professional success. Seated in an armchair (still in the collection but now upholstered in black) he is surrounded by the tools of his profession including an ink stand and quiill pen. His hair is powdered in line with 18th century fashion (later in life he wore a brown wig, as in the portrait by Thomas Lawrence SM P11). The volume on his lap, Antoine Desgodetz' Les édifices antiques de Rome, probably in the English translation by George Marshall (1771), is open to reveal an engraved plan and elevation of his favourite ancient Roman building, the circular Temple of Vesta at Tivoli. In the background (left) can be seen Galiani’s translation of Vitruvius (1758), given to him when he was in Rome by his first patron, the Bishop of Derry.

This portrait was commissioned by Soane along with another of his two sons John and George. The two hang together in the South Drawing Room.

Owen and Soane would have known each other through the Royal Academy. Owen also painted portraits of others known to Soane, for example his client the banker William Praed and Lord Grenville. Owen became portrait painter to the Prince of Wales in 1810. He died tragically in 1825 as a result of poisoning after a chemist's assistant mistakenly gave him a bottle of opium instead of the correct medication.

Provenance help-art-provenance

Commissioned by Soane and paid for in November 1804. Exhibited Royal Academy 1805, no. 35.


Soane, Description, 1830, pp.22 and 42
Soane, Description, 1835, p.74
The Diary of Joseph Farington, Vol VII, p. 2516
New Description, 2007, pg. 76 and 98

Exhibition history

Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1805

Associated items

XF87, depicted
O3279, depicted
P229, pair

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