tue04may6:30 pmFeaturedOnline Lecture: Sir John Soane’s fascination with Napoleon Bonaparte Online lecture by Frances Sands6:30 pm Book Now

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£3 members, £5 non-members

To coincide with the bicentenary of Napoleon’s death, this lecture will review Sir John Soane’s interest in Napoleon Bonaparte. A select but significant collection of Napoleonica at Sir John Soane’s Museum is described within a dedicated portion of Soane’s 1832 guidebook, Description of the House and Museum... The most notable examples can be seen in Soane’s Breakfast Room, where a density of such items forms a shrine of sorts. And Soane collected an array of other items related to Napoleon, including commemorative bronze medals, and up to fifty books. But what can explain Soane’s interest in Napoleon? At first sight it appears so heavily at odds with his position as an architect to the English establishment. Soane had worked for the majority of William Pitt’s political circle and was Architect to the Bank of England and the Palace of Westminster. Napoleon may have been painted by the British press as the bogeyman of Europe, but Soane was capable of greater subtlety. As a self-made man, Soane appreciated Napoleon’s rise from a lowly Lieutenant to a mighty Emperor. Furthermore, he admired Napoleon’s efforts to improve the architectural and cultural fabric of Paris, which he visited as soon as peace allowed in 1814. To Soane, the Musée Napoleon (now known as the Louvre) highlighted the paucity of public collections in Britain. There is an argument to be made that the horror vacui within the Louvre formed an inspiration to Soane’s collection, far more than any extant British institution. Moreover, we must consider Napoleon’s improvements in Parisian town planning, particularly the axis connecting the Place de la Concorde, along the Champs Élysée to the Arc de Triomphe. By comparison, London was a piecemeal jumble. Soane did not particularly imitate the minutiae of Republican French neo-classical architecture, but he did emulate Napoleon’s Parisian cityscape, when in 1827-28 he proposed a grand processional route through London. This would have connected Windsor Castle and Westminster Palace, via a new Royal palace and two triumphal arches, and was intended to provide a processional route for the Monarch’s annual opening of Parliament. Although Soane’s scheme never came to fruition, it would have transformed a large swath of the capital into an urban paradise to rival Napoleon’s Paris. 

Frances Sands, Curator of Drawings and Books, Sir John Soane’s Museum, London. Fran research interests lie in Georgian architectural drawings. Prior to working at the Soane Museum she studied for a PhD at the University of York. Her thesis comprised a monographic study of Nostell Priory near Wakefield. In 2010 she was appointed Catalogue Editor at the Soane Museum, tasked with cataloguing the office drawings collection of Robert and James Adam – a vast project which is still ongoing. In 2016, she was appointed as the Curator of Drawings and Books, taking additional responsibility for the Soane Museum’s wider collection of 30,000 drawings and 7,000 books, as well as supervising the Soane Museum research library and drawings cataloguing projects. Since 2010, Fran has also served as a Trustee for the York Georgian Society, the Mausolea and Monuments Trust and the Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain. 

The talks starts at 6.30pm. Joining details will be sent to attendees the morning of the talk.

Georgian Group members are eligible for a discount on their ticket by entering GGMEMBER at the checkout.

***This talk will be recorded. The recording will be available to all those who have purchased a ticket for a limited period of time after the event takes place***

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(Tuesday) 6:30 pm

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