The Scotsman Robert Adam was an outstanding British architect, best known for the elegance of his interior designs. He started work in Scotland with his brother John, continuing the Palladian style taught them by their father. He then spent over three years on the continent, studying ancient Roman architecture, and returned to establish a flourishing practice in London, assisted by his brother James. He was made joint architect to the king in 1762 and this increased their commissions. Most of their work was concerned with the remodelling of stately homes along neo-
ROBERT ADAM 1728 -
Adam: detail, attributed to the Scottish portrait painter George Willison (1741-
xxxxxThe Scotsman Robert Adam was one of the most outstanding British architects and designers of the late 18th century. He was born in Kirkcaldy, Fife, but soon after his birth his family moved to Edinburgh. He attended the High School there and then, like his three brothers, was trained by his father William Adam, a leading Scottish architect of his day. When his father died in 1748, he worked with his older brother John, and together they designed many buildings, including Fort George, near Inverness, and the home of Lord Dumfries in Ayrshire. In houses, they tended to continue their father’s Palladian style, but even at this stage Robert began to introduce interiors which were somewhat lighter and airier in design, and in which the ornamentation had something of a Rococo flavour.
xxxxxIn 1754 Robert went on an extensive tour of Italy to make a close study of ancient Roman architecture. There was much renewed interest in antiquity at this time -
xxxxxOn his return to London in 1758, he soon established a thriving business. He was appointed joint architect to the king in 1762, and he was joined by his younger brother James the following year. With his assistance (and with occasional help from his brothers John and William) he built a number of fine houses in London and outside -
xxxxxAnd it was around the late 1760s that the brothers embarked on the development of that part of London which stretches from the Strand to the River Thames. Named Adelphi (from the Greek word for “brothers”), this town planning scheme included terraces of elegant houses as well as docks and warehouses along the waterfront (illustrated). But the “Adelphi scheme”, planned over a stretch of swamp land, proved extremely expensive once started. The brothers very nearly went bankrupt, and only managed to save the situation by running a lottery to finance the work’s completion. The scheme was finished in 1774, but the district was virtually rebuilt in the 1930s -
xxxxxShown here (left to right) are the Ante Room in Sion House, London, the Library in Harewood House, Yorkshire, and the Dining Room in Saltram House, Devon.
The Greek Revival,
This Greek revival was part of the movement known as Neoclassicism, a reaction against the frivolity of rococo and baroque art. Its regard for “noble simplicity and calm grandeur” stemmed mainly from the excavation of the Roman sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum, beginning in the 1740s, and from the writings of the German art historian Johann Winckelmann. In its early stages it was particularly applied to the decorative arts -
xxxxxBut whether they built from scratch or redeveloped an existing house, the brothers’ architectural plan included all the interior furnishings and ornamentation down to the last detail. As a result, their interior designs were remarkable for their classical simplicity and symmetry, their ancient Greek as well as Roman motifs -
XxxxxThe “Adam style” spread far and wide, assisted by two informative publications, the Ruins of the Palace of Diocletian in Dalmatia, produced by Robert in 1764, and Works in Architecture, written together with his brother James some ten years later (and with a second volume in 1779). InxAmerica it became known as the “Federal Style”, and was widely in vogue from 1780 to 1820, whilst in Russia, the Scottish architect Charles Cameron (1745-
xxxxxTowards the end of his life Robert Adam spent a great deal of time in Scotland. He produced some fine civic buildings, such as the Register House in Edinburgh and the city’s University, designed in 1789, but he also built a number of romantic, neo-
xxxxxIncidentally, the Adam style proved extremely popular, but it was not universally admired. The English painter Sir Joshua Reynolds and the English actor David Garrick (1717-
xxxxxThe Greek revival in architecture -
xxxxxThis Greek revival was all part of the wider movement known as Neoclassicism, a reaction against the sensuality and frivolity of rococo art, as well as the fussy excesses of the baroque art and architecture of the previous century. As we have seen, an interest in the “noble simplicity and calm grandeur” of antiquity was aroused in the 1740s. It was then that work started in earnest on the excavation of the Roman sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum -
xxxxxImitated it certainly was. Originating in Western Europe, by the mid-
xxxxxIn painting, three men stand out in the early phases of the movement: the German Anton Raphael Mengs, the American Benjamin West, and the Scot Gavin Hamilton, all members of Winckelmann’s circle of friends in Rome. Exemplifying the style by its calm air of grandeur and harmony is Parnassus, a ceiling fresco produced by Mengs in 1761 for the Villa Albani in Rome. But, as we shall see, the greatest exponent of neo-
xxxxxBut it was in architecture, perhaps, that neoclassicism made its biggest visual impact. Here, a style from the past, introduced as early as 1554 by the Italian Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio, was often used to enhance the present. The newly formed republics in North America and France, for example, used the powerful facades of Greco-
William Chambers (1723-
xxxxxWilliam Chambers (1723-
xxxxxThis was the start of a highly successful career. Two years later he published his Designs of Chinese Buildings, based on his travels in China, and began his work on the famous exotic pagoda at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, a landmark which popularised the taste for chinoiserie. Here he also designed the orangery, a fine example of Georgian architecture. It was while working on these projects that he produced his A Treatise on Civil Architecture, a work which had a marked influence on current design.
xxxxxIn his public buildings he practised a refined neo-
Chambers was a founder member of the Royal Academy in 1768 and, two years later, was appointed its first treasurer. He was allowed to assume the title of an English knight after receiving the knighthood of the polar star from the king of Sweden.
xxxxxIncidentally, Robert Adam regarded Chambers as a dangerous rival. In a letter he sent from Rome during his tour of Italy he wrote: "Chambers, who has been here six years, is superior to me at present ... but I will have a fair trial for it, and expect to do as much in six months as he has done in as many years". ......
xxxxx...... Itxwas about this time that the English architect James Gandon (1743-