The architecture of John Soane constitutes one of the few points of contact between advocates of tradition and innovation in this century. It might be successfully argued that for this reason alone his work merits continued scrutiny. But Soane has not always been so well-regarded, and for the greater part of the time since his death in 1837 he has been regarded as something of an odd duck. It is one of the great accomplishments of Gillian Darley’s new biography that the full scope of Soane’s life and works can be seen in exquisite detail, thus allowing a fresh perspective on this vexing figure and his ethereal aesthetic objectives.

Darley, a journalist, broadcaster, and preservationist, opens her book with the observation that upon visiting the Sir John Soane Museum—the house he bequeathed to the nation at Lincoln’s Inn Fields— people are often struck by the fact that it is “like a journey in...

 

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