From the British Museum to the Victoria and Albert Museum, the National Gallery to the Tate Modern, London boasts some of the biggest and best national collections in the world. But there’s one tiny private museum (tucked away on a small square in Holborn) that also garners a growing international reputation, with some calling it the best house museum on earth: the Sir John Soane’s Museum. And now it’s free to enjoy with a unique candlelight visit.
Sir John Soane’s Museum was created by the eponymous neo-Classical architect around the turn of the 19th century. Over a period of 32 years, Soane purchased and renovated three neighboring houses on the northern side of Lincoln’s Inn Fields, an architectural experiment that kept him busy for much of his life, and for which he used a varied range of techniques to create a beautiful, large and unorthodox interior. Spaces inside the museum are top-lit, making them seem more spacious, and it’s an ingenious way of displaying artifacts. House No. 13, which he purchased and began renovating in 1808, now serves as the museum.
But Soane didn’t just redesign house No. 13 — he also filled its walls with a weird and wonderful collection of trinkets and artifacts. As well as a series of architectural blueprints, models and casts — some of his own designs, including the house itself, the Bank of England and the Dulwich Picture Gallery — Soane also added a range of curios from his global travels, a collection that includes art masterpieces by Canaletto and Turner, a set of Peruvian pottery and even the Egyptian sarcophagus of Pharoah Seti I.
Since Soane bequeathed the museum to the nation upon his death in 1837, it has been open to students and the general public, but it’s only with recent renovations that the house has been restored to its true original glory — and become a fixture on any tour of London museums. Today, its immense popularity has led to its offer of candlelight visits on the first Tuesday of every month, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. It’s a wonderfully unique way to see one of London’s most magnificently rare exhibitions. Just be ready for something of a scramble; tickets are issued to the first 200 people waiting in line outside of the museum at 5:30 p.m.
The next candlelight opening of the Sir John Soane’s Museum will take place on Wednesday, May 7.
Photos courtesy of The Trustees Of Sir John Soanes Museum