The Bank of England appears as a fantastic ruin, sheared away at the corners, a Forum Romanum lashed from the west by the elements, illuminated from the north and with even its vaulted foundations laid bare. This is not an image of decay, however, but a triumphant depiction in the form of a cut-away perspective of the greatest architectural commission awarded in late Georgian London (Fig. l). John Soane became architect to the Bank in 1788 and from 1798 it became the task of the painter Joseph Gandy to memorialise and glorify the result--culminating with this visionary rendering in 1830.
Joseph Gandy, born 250 years ago this month, is the artist through whose imagination and remarkable facility we see the work of John Soane. From floor to ceiling, hinged panel by hinged panel, the principal rooms of Sir John Soane's Museum in Lincoln's Inn Fields are hung with Gandy's painted renderings of the architect's designs. They are frequently idealised and luminous reworkings of reality or, as time passed, more often representations of the elaborate scenography of Soane's angry imagination--of the public commissions the architect should have been given.
On paper, Soane's hand tended to be thin, hectic, even pedestrian; he drew to convey the essentials. Gandy's freehand draughtsmanship, however, heightened by ecstatic colour and intense light effects and enlivened by narrative touches such as miniaturised workmen or family members, added an entirely new dimension to the finished perspectives.
Soane's extensive commission in the mid 1790s for the country estate of banker William Praed at Tyringham, near Newport Pagnell, was to be one of the happiest and most successful of his career. He asked Gandy, only recently arrived in the office, to celebrate it. In a large rendering of the entrance and...