Black London taxis disgorged guests at the Royal Hospital Chelsea for the Sir John Soane’s Museum gala last Thursday night.
Among the arrivals was Christian Levett, founder of hedge fund Clive Capital LLP, and David Howden, chief executive officer of Hyperion Insurance Group Ltd. Both decided against the more colorful of the two dress options, black tie or “Regency costume.”
Less sartorially timid were Alison Gowman, a partner in the law firm DLA Piper, and Howden’s wife, Fiona.
It was all in celebration of Soane, the architect who designed several buildings at the Royal Hospital in the early 19th century, and in support of the highly personal museum he began to assemble at that time.
Women in empire gowns and men with long silk coats over ruffled shirts strolled across the manicured lawn of the hospital’s Figure Court.
A re-enactor dressed as Mrs. Soane carried a replica of her favorite Manchester terrier, Fanny.
As the setting sun caught the gilt on a statue of Charles II, a trio from the Royal College of Music played. Was 1812 really this civilized?
Cutting the finest figure, period-wise, was Soane Museum director Tim Knox, in buff breeches and dark cutaway.
“We are here to celebrate not only what Soane achieved in his lifetime, but how his legacy has endured and blossomed in a way that he could never have thought possible,” Knox said during the banquet in the Great Hall.
It’s in a building designed by Christopher Wren, and large portraits of royalty gazed down on guests at long oak tables eating Cornish crab and venison in red wine.
They included Basil Postan, chairman of the Sir John Soane’s Museum Trust, and John and Cynthia Gunn of San Francisco.
Knox said the goal was “to create an endowment of 10 million pounds over the next few years which will provide a cushion of independence for the museum.” That’s about $16 million.
The dinner, whose costs were underwritten by several friends of the museum, netted 375,000 pounds plus a separate pledge of 37,000 pounds, according to Chas A. Miller III, executive director of the Sir John Soane's Museum Foundation.
(Daniel T. Billy is an editor with the Muse arts and leisure team. Any opinions expressed are his own.)
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