Robert Adam (1728-1792)

Robert Adam.

An important Scottish-born architect, gratuitously included on these pages as he was 18th Century rather than Victorian. He was born in Kirkaldy, son of the Edinburgh architect William Adam. Robert Adam studied at Edinburgh University, and then set off on the Grand Tour in 1754, travelling through France and Italy, and returning after 4 years well versed in classical and Italian Renaissance architecture. His three brothers also worked in the architectural profession, and James and William Adam joined Robert Adam in his London-based family practice, set up in 1758 (the eldest brother, John Adam, like his father, was a Palladian architect and was based in Scotland). Robert Adam's own work was mainly Classical, in a lighter style than the Palladians, but his wide studies from his travels left him with a large ouvre of classical variants to draw from, and he used what he felt suited each building. He became one of the two most important architects of the latter part of the 18th Century - the other being William Chambers.

In London, the Adams Brothers designed the Adelphi scheme (1768-1772), built in Westminster and based on a Thames-side terrace with a parallel row closer to the Strand, with a ladder of side streets between. It was largely demolished in the 1930s. A few remain, in John Adam Street, Robert Street and so forth, among which is the Royal Society of Arts, with an elegant Ionic frontage. The south and east sides of Fitzroy Square are also theirs. On his death in 1792, in his house in Albemarle Street, he was honoured with a burial in Westminster Abbey.

Adelphi Terrace.

A few of Robert Adam's town houses remain, including 20 Portman Square, 20 St James's Square, and Chandos House in Queen Anne Street. The majority of his work was on large country houses, usually altering existing ones rather than starting from scratch, and partly for this reason, he is particularly known today for his opulent and elegant interiors rather than exteriors. Around London we may mention Kenwood House, home of the Iveagh Collection of paintings, Osterley Park, and Syon House (near Kew). A large collection of drawings and sketches of his designs are in the collection of the John Soane Museum. An early work of his is the facade for the Admiralty in Whitehall.

Among artists employed by Adam to decorate his interiors are the painter Angelica Kauffman, the sculptor John Flaxman, and the Italian painters Antonio Zucchi (work at Osterley, Kenwood, Adelphi) and Giovanni Cipriani (Syon House interior decoration).

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