Exhibition | Shakespeare in Soane’s Architectural Imagination

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by InternRW on August 22, 2016

Press release for the exhibition on view now at Sir John Soane’s Museum:

‘The Cloud-Capped Towers’: Shakespeare in Soane’s Architectural Imagination
Sir John Soane’s Museum, London, 21 April – 8 October 2016

Curated by Alison Shell


Louis-François Roubiliac, Bust of William Shakespeare (modern replica), 1742 (London: The Garrick Club).

A new exhibition coinciding with the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare will open at Sir John Soane’s Museum on 21st April. ‘The Cloud-Capped Towers’: Shakespeare in Soane’s Architectural Imagination focuses on Soane’s extensive Shakespeare collections, including his ownership of the first four Folios of Shakespeare’s collected works, the way Soane and his family participated in the eighteenth-century Shakespearean revival, and the influence of the Bard on Soane’s architecture. Guest-curated by Dr Alison Shell of UCL, the exhibition will largely consist of Soane’s own collection, supplemented by important loans from The Garrick Club. Whilst Soane’s fascination with Shakespeare is evident throughout his house-museum, this is the first time the elements have been drawn together to provide a cohesive study of the way Shakespeare influenced Soane. It is also a rare opportunity to see Shakespeare’s first our Folios displayed together in one exhibition.

Works in architecture of Robert and James Adam

Robert Adam, Adam’s interior of the Drury Lane Theatre from Works in Architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1779.

The first room of the exhibition introduces the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, setting it in the context of the 200th anniversary celebrations in 1816, and discusses the intersection between literature and architecture with a particular focus on David Garrick, the celebrated actor-manager of the Drury Lane Theatre who was so instrumental in the popularisation of Shakespeare in Georgian London.

The Garrick Club has loaned two paintings: David Garrick between the Muses of Tragedy and Comedy, after Sir Joshua Reynolds, and John Philip Kemble as Hamlet, from the studio of Sir Thomas Lawrence. These are instantly recognisable portraits of two of the greatest actors of the eighteenth century, famed for their interpretations of Shakespeare. The Adam brothers’ designs for Drury Lane Theatre will also be on display, as well as a rare coloured edition of The Works in Architecture of Robert and James Adam.

The second room in the gallery goes on to consider Shakespeare in Soane’s architectural imagination. In 1788–89 ‘The Shakespeare Gallery’, only the second purpose-built art gallery in England, was built in Pall Mall to designs by George Dance the Younger, Soane’s first architectural teacher and mentor. These in turn influenced Soane’s later designs for the Dulwich Picture Gallery—itself the first public art gallery in Britain.

The exhibition closes with a selection of Soane’s large-scale Royal Academy lecture drawings, allowing access to these appealing and striking images which can usually be viewed only by appointment.

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Catalogue available through Sir John Soane’s Museum:

Frances Sands, Alison Shell, Stephanie Coane, and Emmeline Leary, ‘The Cloud-Capped Towers’: Shakespeare in Soane’s Architectural Imagination (London: Sir John Soane’s Museum, 2016), 48 pages, ISBN: 978-0993204128, £10.

The Cloud-Capped Towers BookThis book of essays, ‘The cloud-capped towers:’ Shakespeare in Soane’s Architectural Imagination, is published to coincide with an exhibition with the same title to be shown at Sir John Soane’s Museum in 2016 as part of the nationwide commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the death of the great English playwright William Shakespeare.

Sir John Soane (1753–1837) was a highly literary architect, who appears to have valued Shakespeare for the architectural pictures he conjured up, and also as a moral teacher. He had a deep knowledge of Shakespeare’s work, quoting (and misquoting) it often, notably in his Royal Academy lectures. His fascination with Shakespeare is evident both in his library and in the Shakespearian references throughout his house-museum, the most obvious being the Shakespeare Recess, a shrine to the Bard on the staircase.

The four essays in this volume look at the influence of Shakespeare on Soane’s architecture, against the wider background of the eighteenth-century Shakespearean revival; at Soane as a ‘bardolator’ and bibliophile; and at contemporary performance and theatre-going, with a particular focus on the plays seen by Soane and his wife Eliza. The essays are illustrated by a number of illustrations in full colour, the majority drawn from Soane’s own collection.

Frances Sands is Curator of Drawings and Books at Sir John Soane’s Museum. Alison Shell is a professor in the Department of English, University College London. Emmeline Leary is an independent scholar. Stephanie Coane is Senior Librarian is Senior Librarian, College Library, Eton College and Honorary Librarian to Sir John Soane’s Museum.









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