Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

VA vs. John Soane Museum

September 24th, 2009 · 1 Comment

 Firstly, I realize that blogs have become old hat and that many (if not all of you) no longer read them. However, this has been sitting in my Gmail draft box for a dreadfully long time and if only out of annoyance for the Draft(1) icon, I am going to post it. I took to comparing the two last museums I went to. Are they comparable? Maybe not, but I thought they were trying to impart the same message to the viewer, which makes them comparable in my book.

What was it they were trying to show? I think as all museums do, they were trying to capture as much history as possible. But what is different about these two museums is the breathe. In a way it seems they tried to find the essence of beauty, and they tried to find it in many forms. But more importantly, they were both museums dedicated to the lives of those people who sought out that beauty and tried to make it accessible to us all.

Everyone seemed to have gotten hung up on the fashion section, and maybe it’s because I’m a guy who doesn’t really care for wedding dresses, but I didn’t think it was that offensive. The wedding dress is a big deal in English culture, and I imagine for Victoria and Albert it was a big deal too. Queen Victoria became severely depressed after her husband died, marriage was important in those days (a confusing thought in our modern society). But what gets me, is there were so many other fashion exhibits to look at; so many stranger ones. Namely the future fashion stuff, which I pray is not the future of fashion.  I particularly liked the stuff of The Porter Gallery though. I really like when artists play with the concepts of what art is. I’m not some high brow art snob but if I’m going to stare at something for ten minutes, I’d like it to challenge my perception, make me think, make me question. Telling-tales did just that. They also have a really good website, which i provided a hyperlink above to. I also really liked the Leighton Room with the paintings and sketches of gardens. How wonderful the English landscape is!

When you talk about the John Soane’s Museum, you must of course first talk about the building itself, for it is as much an item on display as any book or statue. The museum is mostly top-lit, with a similar feeling as another building he designed: the Bank of England. (the Bank of England isn’t worth going to just for the architecture) Other than that, however, the place feels like a labyrinth. There are folding panels, mirrors and strangely placed doors. It is also as eclectically put together as the objects it holds. You go from Roman to Gothic with a step through a doorway and then right back into neo-classical with another. The body of work itself is quite extraordinary. The thing that kept running through my head was that each of these pieces had been sought after, hand selected and cherished. The building was Soane’s soul materialized; he sunk every ounce of his being into collecting and creating. I wonder if with the same resources he had, I would have followed the same path. What dedication he had. And yet I felt almost saddened: the place was absolutely cluttered at some points, and I couldn’t help but feel like he was attempting to fill a void in his life with statues and paintings. When I asked a clerk about John Soane’s personal life I found it to be, indeed, quite depressing. John Soane died a widower and estranged from his only surviving son. So at the end of both the museums we are left with the why. Why did each of these two museums begin to tell a narrative, and why are they the way they are now? For Victoria and Albert, I think they were trying to bring beauty to the masses. This seems to go along with other projects they did including welfare programs and The Great Exhibition. On the other hand, I look at Soane’s collection, and I see loneliness. With his death he handed over everything he had ever worked to collect, almost as an attempt for people to remember him.

Tags: Museums · Andrew R