Sir Robert Smirke (1780-1867)

The architect Robert Smirke belongs on these pages for his British Museum, surely one of the most impressive of all 19th Century classical buildings in England. Smirke was the son of Robert Smirke RA, a portrait painter, and a pupil of the classical architect John Soane in 1796, the same year commencing study at the Royal Academy. He also studied and travelled in southern Europe for several years. He was elected ARA in 1808, and RA just 3 years later, and in his long career established one of the largest and most successful architectural practices of the time.

The British Museum was built in 1823-47, with its hugely long frontage with 48 great Ionic columns and central giant portico with sculpture by Richard Westmacott. The round Reading Room in the centre of the courtyard, now open to all and beautifully set off by the modern glass roof around, is by Smirke's younger brother Sidney Smirke.

General Post Office, by Smirke.

Two other important London works by Smirke - the General Post Office and the old Covent Garden Theatre - no longer survive. However, the Oxford and Cambridge Club in Pall Mall (designed together with Sidney Smirke) is still extant, as is the College of Physicians in Trafalgar Square, and St Mary's Church Wyndham Place, south of Marylebone Station across Marylebone Rd. The east wing of William Chambers's Somerset House, which houses King's College London, is also by him.

Outside London, other notable work designed by Smirke includes the Bristol Council Offices, and several Shire Halls.

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