A doorman will politely request that you deposit your bags. With good reason: These two town houses on the north side of Lincoln’s Inn Fields (fresh off a £7-million expansion that opened up closed rooms) are so overloaded with furniture, paintings, architectural decoration, and sculpture that navigation is a challenge. The Georgian architect, noted for his egotistic neoclassicism (the Bank of England) as much as for his aesthetic materialism, bequeathed his home and its contents as a museum for “amateurs and students,” and so it has been, looking much like this since 1837. It’s as if the well-connected eccentric had just popped out to purloin another Greek pilaster, leaving you to roam his groaning wood floors, sussing out the objets d’art from the certifiable treasures. His oddball abode, which his will decreed must be left precisely as it was on the day he died, is a melee of art history in which precious paintings and sculpture jostle for space like baubles in a junk shop. Ask to join a tour of the Picture Room, built in an 1823 expansion, so you can watch its hidden recesses be opened, revealing layer upon buried layer of works (such as William Hogarth’s eight-painting The Rake’s Progress, a documentary of dissolution), filed inside false walls. Look sharp for Canalettos (which often fetch £9 million at auction) and a J. M. W. Turner (ditto). Curation appears convoluted and haphazard: The guides swear that although sunshine appears to pour onto the masterpieces through skylights, there are UV filters—yet architectural fragments from Whitehall Palace are plainly betrayed to the elements in the courtyard (“It was never covered because that’s the way he wanted it,” a guide says). You have to wonder how Soane could legally acquire antiquities such as the sarcophagus of Seti I, carved from translucent limestone but stockpiled for £2,000, and you won’t know because nearly nothing is marked. (Just how the Hogarth hoarder wanted it, too.) Surf the simulated museum at http://explore.soane.org to get pre-acquainted, or take a guided 1-hr. tour (£12.50; Thurs–Sun noon, also Sat–Sun 11am; book ahead). Mostly, a visit reminds you of the unseemly way in which privileged Englishmen used to stuff their homes with classical art as a way of stocking up on a sense of righteousness—but that doesn’t mean it’s not wondrous.
Sir John Soane’s Museum
13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, WC2
Our Rating Hours Wed–Sun 10am–5pm, last entry 4:30pm; candlelit nights at least once a month (book ahead online) Transportation Tube: Holborn Phone 020/7405-2107 Prices Free admission Web site Sir John Soane’s Museum
Map13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, WC2 London
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.