Sunday, 24 January 2010

Soane lives on

There was snow outside, and one block away a continual roar of traffic. But in Lincoln's Inn Fields, as you approached the John Soane Museum, there was a feeling that the traffic had been left behind. On entering the house, it was another world. For once, the old chestnut ("Does the family still live here?") was irrelevant because Soane himself lives here: there is a powerful, and rather eery, sense of his presence in every room. Perhaps it is the unexpected mixture of standard-sized rooms and tiny rooms, perhaps the sense of intimacy because in every room of the house there are traces - sometimes immediately obvious, at other times only noticeable after a few glances - of Soane himself. As you wander round the house (a misnomer, because the house is museum, junkyard, and small-scale demonstration of architectural tricks, at the same time as being his living quarters) you begin to see how the subject of the house is no less than Soane. It is Soane's portrait in the living room above the fire. That bust in the gallery is none other than Sir John Soane. It is a temple dedicated to one man.

But does it matter? If nothing else, it is remarkable how easy it is for a visitor, right in the middle of central London, to find themselves suddenly immersed in a different world.