In other parts of London, American-born architect Rick Mather is developing the Wallace Collection and the Dulwich Picture Gallery. At the Wallace Collection--which includes paintings, sculpture, furniture and porcelain amassed by the four marquesses of Hertford and Sir Robert Wallace, the illegitimate son of the fourth--he has covered the central courtyard in glass and excavated former stables, an 18th century kitchen and Word War I air raid shelter to add such things as a library and lecture theater. New galleries will allow the museum to set up an arts conservation exhibit, a room for its watercolors and a display of its reserve collection of fakes.
"Our desire is to explain things better, to help the visitor understand and fall in love with the art," said director Rosalind Savill.
Dulwich, with a collection of paintings by 17th and 18th century European masters, has undergone similar improvements. Mather has refurbished the original gallery and created a new building linked to it by a glass and bronze cloister. The new building houses an arts education center, lecture and exhibit room and cafe.
Soane's original facade at the Dulwich had been masked by earlier additions and its restoration nets more display space for the picture gallery. The whole is expected to draw a wider public to what Sunday Telegraph art critic John McEwen calls "sleepy museums." He adds wryly that there is a risk that the changes "may disappoint some old Londoner hands who used to like taking their mistresses and lovers to a quiet out-of-the-way museum on a Sunday afternoon."
But Louise Jury, art correspondent for the Independent on Sunday, said these new spaces from cutting-edge Tate Modern to the traditional Dulwich "can only encourage more people to go and look at art. Even if one isn't interested so much in the exhibits, the spaces which have been opened up are worth looking at. But I think it is very hard not to be enthused by the contemporary art scene in London at the moment. There is a lot of imagination in it and people seem to want to see it."
Times London researcher Janet Stobart contributed to this report.