The mausoleum is an integral part of Dulwich Art Gallery, which is neo-Greek in style and built of yellow brick with stone dressings. The burial chamber was set in the centre of the west side, with the galleries to the east and the almshouses to the west. Soane had, in fact, already built a mausoleum for the three friends following Desenfans’ death in 1807. This had been situated in the backyard of the Charlotte Street house; it had no external elevations but its interior, top-lit through yellow glass and using a baseless Doric order, set the precedent for the Dulwich mausoleum, where the three sarcophagi are set in niches beyond the internal ring of columns.
In his description of the new building, Soane asked the viewer to “Fancy the Gallery brilliantly lighted for an unrivalled assemblage of pictorial art, - whilst a dull, religious light shews the mausoleum in the full pride of funeral grandeur, displaying its sarcophagi, enriched with the mortal remains of departed worth, and calling back so powerfully the recollections of past times, that we almost believe we are conversing with our departed friends now sleeping in their silent tombs.”
Sir John Soane
Grade II* (England and Wales)
The mausoleum is attached to the gallery and contains the remains of its benefactors: the painter, Sir Francis Bourgeois (1756-1811) his friend and patron, the art dealer and collector, Noel Desenfans (1745-1807) and Desenfans’ wife (d.1814). Desenfans had originally wished his collection of paintings to be publicly displayed at his home at 38 Charlotte Street, but had been unable to acquire the freehold of the building. As a result, he left the collection to Bourgeois who in turn bequeathed it to Dulwich College, together with the money to build a gallery for the paintings and a burial chapel for himself and Mr and Mrs Desenfans. He arranged for his friend, Sir John Soane, to be employed as the architect.
Both aspects of the commission appealed deeply to Soane, and under his enthusiastic guidance the project metamorphosed into an ambitious new building of unprecedented type: a combined picture gallery and mausoleum (as originally built it also included almshouses but these were converted into galleries later in the 19th century). As a result of tensions with the College the plans were reworked before and even during construction, with the College Surveyor, George Tappen, taking over responsibility for the building’s completion in 1814. The gallery was partially rebuilt as a result of bomb damage sustained during the Second World War.
BoE: London 2 (1983) 621-3;
H Colvin, Architecture and the After-Life (1991) 359-60, fig.347;
H Colvin, A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects (1995) 907, 912;
Sir John Soane, Memoirs of the Professional Life of an Architect (1835) 48;
Giles Waterfield, ‘Dulwich Picture Gallery’,
Margaret Richardson and Mary Anne Stevens, eds, John Soane Architect: Master of Space and Light (1999);
Giles Waterfield, Soane and Death (1996).
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