Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

A Confusing Trip to the John Soane Museum

September 20, 2010 · 1 Comment

On a whim (and because it is the last required museum I haven’t visited), a few of us visited the Sir John Soane museum a couple of Wednesdays ago. Having had no introduction to the museum, we were slightly confused as we arrived at our destination. The man at the gates of this unremarkable-looking English town house first complained that there were eight of us and asked kindly that we “not go around together.” He then had the ladies put their purses into plastic bags to be carried around with them. I had to sign the entire group in on a huge log book and we were off!

We entered the museum but instead of being greeted by an introduction or explanation, we came to room upon room of art and sculpture. The rooms were oddly shaped and almost all lit by giant skylights in the ceilings. As I later learned, John Soane was an architect and he intended his home to serve as an educational space and and inspiration for his students. All of the spaces are top lit so as to allow as much space as possible on the walls for art work. Here’s a picture that gives you an idea of just how packed the museum is. It also shows the high ceilings and circular skylight which was a feature of almost every room.


I have to say, this was the strangest museum I visited while in London and it was also my favorite. It was unlike any other place we went and it seemed to me quintessentially British. It was inexplicably quirky and reveled in its own strangeness. It was unexpected and unclear and a bit odd.

My impressions of the other museums are as follows:

Victoria and Albert: Interesting but without a cohesive character, unless you count imperialism as a unifying force.

National Portrait Gallery: Anything after 1600 was interesting, anything before was all the same. Admittedly not the most nuanced view but without a bit more context for the portraits I was viewing in the Tudor and Stuart Halls, I was bored by them. I especially enjoyed the Victorian era stuff.

British Museum: Also a product of imperialism but more educational than the Victoria and Albert because I think that the curative work was more focused on teaching us about the places Britain had stolen from. I thought that the podcasts were especially good since they made an effort to contextualize the pieces.

National Gallery: In general, I really enjoyed the artwork. I was disappointed by the Japanese Bridge that they have. Not Monet’s best effort.

Cabinet War Rooms: I enjoyed the War Rooms more for the place than the museum but since the place is so historically important, I found it interesting.

Natural History Museum: The attraction here was more the building than the exhibits themselves which was striking. There are mosaics all over the walls of animals, plants, and fossils. The best exhibit here was also the most mundane. The giant collection of minerals was my favorite part of the museum. It took up an entire hall and held over a hundred cases of any rock or mineral you’d ever want to see.

Categories: 2010 Daniel · Museums · Uncategorized

1 response so far ↓

  •   Karl // Sep 20th 2010 at 11:54

    Hayden liked the rocks too (which cost me dearly in the gift shop)! Geologist in the making?

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