Sir John Soane’s Museum

London, United Kingdom | C.1837

Photo Credit: Zeina Talha

Sir John Soane was a strange man with peculiar tastes – one with a keen eye for art and the audacity to ask Parliament to make his house into a museum. The neo-classical architect was an avid collector of nearly everything, befriending painters, sculptors, poets, and dignitaries throughout his life and travels. Soane collected so much stuff that at the age of 80, he lobbied for a Private Act of Parliament and a museum was to be established in his name upon his death.

Soane passed away just four years later, and his homes at Nos. 12, 13, and 14 Lincoln’s Inn Fields were preserved by Parliament in perpetuity exactly as they were. While outside may have seemed orderly, inside was generally chaotic with thousands and thousands of objects in every room from paintings by esteemed friends to 9,000 drawings by Robert Adams, and 30,000 of his own architectural drawings.

Perhaps no item is more shocking than the sarcophagus of Pharaoh Seti I, which sits in Soane’s basement. Discovered by a former circus strongman, it is the most expensive item in Soane’s collection having come into his possession after the British Museum refused to pay for it. In spite of its location, Soane did not mean to hide the artifact–in fact, he held a party for three full days to show off his newly acquired ancient coffin.

But not every collection Soane kept would be noteworthy, at least not for the right reasons. Soane had placed a wooden lid on his bath, and stipulated that the tub be sealed for fifty years after his wife’s death. When it finally came time to open it, all they found were some false teeth and papers. Not quite the surprise many were hoping for, but at Sir John Soane’s Museum, surprises are around every corner.

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