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Sunday, June 6

Candlelight at the Sir John Soane Museum

It seems like just a few days ago that I was in London, where I attended the most magical party at one of my favorite places in the world.

If you have never been to the Sir John Soane Museum, it is a hidden jewel and a must see for anyone.
It was such a treat to be invited to this private event and the best part is that the whole place was lit by candlelight- which made for the most mysterious experience.

Soane is one of my favorite architects, and my own interiors have been SO inspired by his work. Soanes architectural works are distinguished by their clean lines, massing of simple form, decisive detailing, careful proportions and skillful use of light sources.

Filled to the brim with collections of antiquities and architectural salvage, champagne flowing and candles everyone. What a night!


The diarist Benjamin Robert Haydon described his experience of a celebratory party at Soane’s house thus: ‘Soane’s house is a perfect labyrinth…It was the finest fun imaginable to see the people come into the Library after wandering about below, amidst tombs and capitals, and shafts, and nose less head, with a sort of expression of delighted relief at finding themselves again among the living, and with coffee and cake.’

The party was one of three held in March 1825 by Soane to celebrate his acquisition of the Egyptian sarcophagus of Pharaoh Seti I, discovered in 1817 by Giovanni Belzoni. The architect went to great lengths to ensure that his house was beautifully lit for the occasion: wax lights, glass bucket lamps, chandeliers and candelabra were placed or suspended around the ground floor rooms and basement to create the most romantic atmosphere in which to appreciate the sarcophagus.

The events were widely reported in the newspapers, which all noted the presence of ‘distinguished fashionables and literary characters’, ‘persons versed in antiquarian lore’, MPs and Royal Academicians as well as ‘private friends and elegant females’. This, great contemporary artists Sir Thomas Lawrence and JMW Turner, the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge and ‘many other persons of well known taste’ could be found rubbing shoulders with such grand notables as HRH the Duke of Sussex, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Bishop of London.

Following in the same tradition, Sir John Soane’s Museum holds an annual ‘Sarcophagus Party’ for a celebration of its own and to help raise funds for its major restoration project, Opening up the Soane. The Museum is atmospherically lit with over 300 candles and more then 200 guests are invited to enjoy the festivities.


The Museum was created by the architect Sir John Soane at his house in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London, and has been a public Museum ever since his death in 1837. The son of a bricklayer, Soane rose fro humble beginnings to become one of England’s greatest architects, responsible not only for the Bank of England, but also the Dulwich Picture Gallery (Britain’s first public art gallery)- and interiors at No. 10 Downing Street amongst many others.

Containing works by Hogarth, Canaletto, Turner, Christopher Wren and Robert Adam, few small collections in the world rival Soane’s for both quality and eclecticism.

‘I want to transform (my collection) into a curiosity museum like Sir John Soane’s Museum.” Damien Hirst in The Art Newspaper

“This place is an inspiring mixture of the traditional and the wildly eclectic”
Paul Smith in The Observer Magazine


Karena said...

Stunning images of a fabulous museum. I have an event in SF posted on my site you may want to attend.

Art by Karena

Habitually Chic said...

Beautiful! The thing I love best about Europe is that they can discplay lit candles in stores and museums while we have those pesky fire code laws in the US! Glad you had a good time and I can't wait to see you Thursday! XOXO!


Such beautiful photos! It is truly a magical spot and you are one lucky guy. The friends you went with must be Divine as well.

Michael said...

Extraordinary! I would have fainted upon my first step through the door!


Acanthus and Acorn said...

Wow! Mysterious and romantic!!! Thanks for the background history very interesting.

Toby Worthington said...

Thank you for sharing these photos, Grant!
I've long been fascinated by the Soane Museum
but never had the chance to see it by candlelight .
No doubt that would most nearly approximate the
look of Joseph Gandy's watercolours of the house,with
all that dramatic up-lighting casting shadows, and adding to the sense of mystery.

Things That Inspire said...

Despite the fact that my mother is British, and I have been to London perhaps 25 times, I have never been to this museum! Unfortunately my tentative plan to visit London this summer was scuttled, due to the build of my house, I am determined to visit London in 2010 and this museum will be at the top of my list of places to go.


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