Sir John Soane’s Museum is the extraordinary house and museum of the British architect Sir John Soane (1753–1837). On this page, discover the history of the Museum, its world class collections, and the U.S. Foundation that helps support them through programs inspired by Soane and his world.
Sir John Soane was one of the foremost architects of the Regency era, a Professor of Architecture at the Royal Academy, and a dedicated collector of sculpture, architectural fragments, and models, as well as books, drawings, and furniture.
Born in 1753, the fourth son of a bricklayer, his father’s professional links with architects and his own natural talent for drawing won him the opportunity to train as an architect. A talented and hardworking student, Soane was awarded the Royal Academy’s prestigious Gold Medal for Architecture, receiving a bursary (funded by King George III) to undertake a Grand Tour of Europe. His travels to the ruins of Ancient Rome, Paestum, and Pompeii would inspire his lifelong interest in Classical art and architecture.
Soane’s inventive use of light, space, and his experimentation with the forms of Classical architecture earned him great success as an architect. During his career he won numerous high-profile projects, including the Bank of England (where he was architect for 45 years) and Dulwich Picture Gallery, and he created his own extraordinary home and Museum on Lincoln’s Inn Fields.
His successes as an architect and his fascination with the history of architecture led to his appointment as Professor of Architecture at the Royal Academy in 1806. Already an enthusiastic collector, he began to repurpose his home at Lincoln’s Inn Fields as a Museum for students of architecture.
Today, Sir John Soane’s Museum occupies three buildings: Nos. 12, 13, and 14 Lincoln’s Inn Fields in London. Sir John Soane acquired and rebuilt each of these buildings during his lifetime.
In 1792, Soane bought No. 12, at that time a 17th-century house, which he demolished and rebuilt as his home and office. Close to the Bank of England, of which he was Architect, the Royal Academy (then at Somerset House), and the coaching inns on High Holborn, the property was a convenient location for Soane as both a home and an office. In 1807, now Professor of Architecture at the Royal Academy, Soane bought and moved into No. 13, the house next door, creating a larger architectural office and what is today the Dome Area, which he filled with his rapidly expanding collections, and renting out the front of No. 12. In late 1823, he acquired No. 14, which he demolished and rebuilt in 1824-25, designing a new Picture Room to house his expanding collection of paintings — including works by Canaletto, Hogarth, and Soane’s friend, J. M. W. Turner.
With a collection containing thousands of objects ranging from Ancient Egyptian antiquities and Roman sculpture to models of contemporary buildings, Soane’s house had become a museum by the time of his death.
The organization of the Museum can at first glance seem crowded and even chaotic. However, it is, in fact, purposeful, with each interior being a work of art in its own right. Soane was constantly arranging and rearranging the collection, not just to incorporate new acquisitions, but to enhance the objects’ poetic qualities through creative and inspiring juxtapositions. In the Model Room, for example, Soane placed models of his own works beneath models of the ancient ruins that inspired them.
In 1833, Soane negotiated a private Act of Parliament to preserve his house and collection, exactly as it was arranged at the time of his death, in perpetuity — and to keep it open and free for inspiration and education. Upon his death in January 1837, a Board of Trustees took on the responsibility of upholding Soane’s wishes — as they continue to do today.
Today, this unique museum — the world’s supreme example of a house museum — attracts more than 100,000 visitors a year.
Founded in 1991, Sir John Soane’s Museum Foundation is Soane in America.
Inspired by Soane’s inquisitive spirit, the Foundation convenes a lively forum in the fields of art, architecture, and design, promoting intellectual curiosity, design innovation, and creative ingenuity through a diverse array of initiatives. The Foundation’s Graduate Fellowships, Soane Lecture Series and educational seminars, Soane Travels program, and annual awards, the Soane Honors, have engaged thousands of students, educators, curators, architects, designers, and collectors from all walks of life and across the country (and beyond).
For thirty years, the Foundation has been a critical partner in supporting the Museum’s mission and growth, raising millions of dollars to help conserve its remarkable collections, expand its galleries, sustain and increase its operational capacity, develop educational programs, fund important exhibitions, and preserve the historic fabric of Nos. 12, 13, and 14 Lincoln’s Inn Fields — an architectural and art historical landmark of global importance.
Sir John Soane’s Museum Foundation is a 501(c)3 organization and gifts are tax deductible to the full extent allowed by U.S. law. Federal Tax Identification 13-362-4437. New York State Charities Registration 04-77-08. Guidestar key words: Sir John
Paul L. Whalen, Chairman
Molly Lowell Borthwick
Suzy W. Grote
Jonathan A. Hogg
Rosemarie Russi Howe
Anne Kriken Mann
Brian J. McCarthy
Wendy Lyon Moonan
Luke Ives Pontifell
Suzanne R. Santry
Elizabeth F. H. Scott
Richard T. Sharp
Jean Margaret Smith
Kathleen E. Springhorn
Douglas C. Wright III
Susan P. Magee
Cynthia W. Spurdle
John D. Dale
Clara M. Dale
Mary B. Lehman
Susan P. Magee
Samuel C. Miller
Judith G. Sanger
Robert A. Silver
Kathleen E. Springhorn
Cynthia W. Spurdle
Stuart H. Wrede