Sir John Soane was an architect and dedicated collector. He established his museum for the benefit of “amateurs and students,” and it has been open to the public since the early 19th century.
The museum’s building, which Soane (designer of Dulwich Picture Gallery) built and lived in, houses his great collections and library. His vast collections include Egyptian, Medieval, Renaissance, and Classical antiquities, sculpture, casts, timepieces, furniture, stained glass, paintings, and oriental objects, as well as 30,000 architectural drawings.
It is a treasure trove of a museum, topped by a glass dome and lighted by hidden skylights, whose brightness is reflected by mirrors. The highlights of Soane’s crammed-in collection of art, sculpture, and antiques include the sarcophagus of Egyptian pharaoh Seti l — held in the Sepulchral Chamber, an acquisition that so thrilled Soane he threw a party that went on for days — and a bevy of paintings by William Hogarth. There are also many architectural sketches, models, and items, many of which inspired historic buildings in London.
The architecture of the building is a work of art itself, with internal courtyards and different rooms featuring unusual details, such as a domed ceiling inset with convex mirrors. In the courtyard on the lowest level is buried Soane’s dog Fanny, the grave for which reads: “Alas! Poor Fanny!.” The museum and its collection have been preserved so that they appear today much as they did during Soane’s life, which remained a museum partly because he despised his alcoholic son who had no interest in architecture and would not leave it to him.