Press Release:
Shakespeare at Sir John Soane’s Museum

Downloadable PDF

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, (21 April – 08 October 2016) will focus 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 four folios displayed together in one exhibition.

From left to right: William Shakespeare, Mr. VVilliam Shakespeare’s comedies, histories & tragedies.  Published according to the true original copies, 1623;  Robert Adam, Adam’s interior of the Drury Lane Theatre from Works in architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1779

From left to right: William Shakespeare, Mr. VVilliam Shakespeare’s comedies, histories & tragedies. Published according to the true original copies, 1623;
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 will introduce the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, setting it in the context of the 200th anniversary celebrations in 1816, and discuss 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 only be viewed by appointment.

From left to right: Clara Maria Pope, The Flowers of Shakespeare, c. 1835;  Soane office, Royal Academy lecture drawing: the façade of Shakespeare Gallery, c.1806-15

From left to right: Clara Maria Pope, The Flowers of Shakespeare, c. 1835;
Soane office, Royal Academy lecture drawing: the façade of Shakespeare Gallery, c.1806-15

Helen Dorey, Acting Director of Sir John Soane’s Museum says: “Soane’s fascination with Shakespeare is evident throughout his house, in his collection of books, paintings and sculptures and of course, in the Shakespeare Recess – a small shrine-like space centred on the Vision of Shakespeare, a painting of the apotheosis of the Bard commissioned by Soane. Soane’s collections of Shakespeare related material has never before been drawn together to provide a cohesive study of how Shakespeare influenced Soane and I am delighted that we are taking the opportunity to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the death of a man whose status as the greatest English literary genius was celebrated by Sir John Soane in so many ways in his Museum. The exhibition is a wonderful opportunity to present works not usually available to the public in an exciting exploration of Soane’s world.”

‘The cloud- capped towers’: Shakespeare in Soane’s Architectural Imagination will be accompanied by a fully illustrated book with an introductory essay by Professor Alison Shell and others by members of the Museum’s curatorial team and outside scholars.