Background to the project
In 1800 John Soane designed Pitzhanger Manor, in then rural Ealing, as his dream country retreat. An invigorating walk from his city home in Lincoln's Inn Fields, it became a place to relax and entertain friends and clients, including painter JMW Turner and King Louis Philippe of France. By 1800 Soane had achieved fame and fortune, largely thanks to his position as Architect and Surveyor to the Bank of England, and he wanted a country estate to reflect his standing in society, but also to showcase to his clients his skills as an architect. Soane enjoyed designing Pitzhanger around his growing collection of art and antiquities, including Hogarth's series A Rake's Progress, which was purchased specifically for Pitzhanger. But first and foremost Pitzhanger was to be a place for entertainment: Soane called the surrounding 28 acres of parkland (still there today as Walpole Park) his 'pleasure grounds', and the design of the mock Roman ruins on the estate was intended for the entertainment of guests.
Pitzhanger is vitally important in the Soane story as a rare example of a building Soane designed, built and lived in himself. It was here that Soane tested some of his most innovative and exciting architectural ideas - ideas he then applied and adapted in subsequent works, including at his own city home. We see his trademark use of caryatids, the canopy dome on ceilings, decorative piers and of light as an architectural tool, as well as extraordinary and elaborate paint schemes, an idiosyncratic take on classical design and a meticulous attention to detail.
Progress to date
The Victorian infill between the north side of the Manor and the Gallery has been successfully removed: this has meant that, for the first time in over 150 years, visitors' first view of the Manor is the vista that Soane intended. As the infill came down the building team was delighted to discover that the north facade was remarkably undamaged and the condition of the facing bricks was good. Stone masons are working on carving replacement pilasters and stone roses for the two that were demolished when the infill was built. Removal of the infill now creates space for the reconstruction of Soane's long-since demolished colonnade.
Paint specialists Hare & Humphreys have completed their painstaking research into the decorative paint effects that Soane used throughout the interiors of the Manor, which have been long since painted over, so these can be reinstated. They have identified pigments rarely used in the domestic setting, and a very dramatic marbled design for the entrance hall and tribune, which would have made a striking impact on guests as they entered the Manor for the first time.
The paint analysis strip shows a slice through the wall paint in the Eating Room in the older Dance Wing of the Manor, taking us back in time through all the different paint schemes to the paint used in Soane's and before that Dance's time.
A talented team of skilled stone masons from London Stone Carving have been carving replacement roundels and stone roses with meticulous care and beautiful results. Pitzhanger is delighted to be supporting such specialist craftspeople in their trades.
Work is progressing on conservation throughout the Manor, reinforcement of the Gallery's weak foundations and construction of The Garden Room.