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i  ·  t h e adam brot h ers

DUMFRIES HOUSE The death of the architect William Adam in 1748 was a crux point for the careers of his sons. They had all been raised in the trade of building but also moved with ease in the social milieu of their father’s patrons and the leading professional families of Edinburgh. The eldest, John Adam, then aged twenty-seven, took over the family’s complex practice and continued with the completion of major projects, such as Hopetoun House, and the construction of Fort George, Ardersier, on the Moray Firth (begun in 1748, it was finished by 1769).1 Robert and James were taken on as partners and worked on Fort George, which was an important training ground for them all in the art of good building and administration. They also worked at Inverarary Castle, where John had retained the superintendence of work for the 3rd Duke of Argyll, executing designs by Roger Morris.2 Robert Adam was also closely involved in Dumfries House in Ayrshire—at the outset at least—which was the first major country house commission to come to the brothers after the death of their father.3 The client at Dumfries House was William Crichton-Dalrymple—5th Earl of Dumfries—who had decided not to remodel his old house at Leifnorris but to build a new one.4 He had, in fact, first approached William Adam, then the leading country-house architect in Scotland, but, in 1748, William had died, and Lord Dumfries then, with the encouragement of the 2nd Earl of Hopetoun, another client and family friend, decided to continue with the young Adam brothers: John, Robert, and James (the designs are signed jointly).5 It was a turning point, and also the project from which Robert departed on his Grand Tour in late 1754, in the company of the Hon. Charles Hope, the younger brother of Lord Hopetoun. The brothers proceeded to produce a handsome, Palladian-inspired design, with a well-ordered plan, the interiors finished in an up-to-date style. One version of their design was sent in 1751 to the godfather of taste himself, Lord Burlington, for his “approbation” (which it received, although which version it is not known).6 While John Adam continued his father’s practice, it appears that Robert played a key role in the final set of designs for Dumfries

A detail of the fruit and vines leaf rococo stucco decoration in the corner of the coved ceiling of the parlour at Dumfries House in Ayrshire. The three brothers Adam—John, Robert, and James—all worked on this house in the early 1750s, their first commission after the death of their father, William.

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56  life among the great

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had studied under Zucchi; other chiaroscuro panels were by Biagio Rebecca. Within the house, Adam maintained Brettingham and Paine’s vision of a grandiose central entrance hall, like a great colonnaded Roman atrium, which lay at the centre of the ancient Roman villa, the ultimate model for such houses. There are twenty Corinthian columns of Derbyshire-quarried alabaster, veined in red and brown, creating a curious sense of warmth in this great interior. The Corinthian capitals give a sense of such richness and grandeur to this interior.21 Adam also designed the floor of local grey Hopton stone inlaid with Italian marble. The niches on the long walls were filled, in the 1780s, with casts of the admired sculptures of classical antiquity, joining the four already placed on the short walls, and under the bas-reliefs above depicting scenes from Homer’s Iliad, arranged by Adam.22 This room was on axis with the saloon, a handsome domed interior, and inspired by the Pantheon. The octagonal compartments of the ceiling are on the pattern of the basilica of Maxentius, while the coffering of the alcoves was drawn from the Temple of Venus and Rome in the forum; thus this room illustrates the way in which Adam drew on a certain repertoire of great Roman survivals united in a novel way. The scagliola pilasters were supplied from the workshop of Domenico Bartoli. Adam had originally filled the niches with casts of antique statues making this in effect a statue gallery, but these were moved elsewhere in 1787–89, and the urns on plinths introduced, two of which were stoves.23 Curzon described these two great rooms in his 1787 guide to the house, as “the Greek Hall and Dome of the Ancients, proportioned chiefly from the

The magnificent drawing room hung in a blue silk damask (rewoven and rehung in 2001), with an ornately carved and gilded sofa by John Linnell and the gilt-framed pictures, contributed to the magnificent

effect intended in the eighteenth century. The carved mermaid of Linnell’s sofa (detail, above) matched the maritime themes in the plasterwork.

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i I  ·  l i f e amon g t h e g reat

S Y O N PA R K Syon House was perhaps the most startling achievement of Adam’s early years after his return from Italy: creating a sequence of five memorably lavish rooms for entertainment, circuit, and display.1 One contemporary, Louis Dutens, wrote of Adam’s client Hugh Smithson, the 1st Duke of Northumberland (from 1766): “He restored the ancient splendor of the Percies by his taste and magnificence … He embellished Sion House, a country seat not far from London; and exhausted the resources of art, at an immense expence.”2 Another visitor in 1769, Alexander Carlyle, wrote of Syon, “the inside of which has been most beautifully adorned by Robert Adam.”3 The Adams chose it as the opening subject of Works in Architecture.4 Indeed, Syon proved to be one of the critical crucibles of Adam’s original neoclassical style, imitated across Europe.5 The rooms at Syon are especially interesting survivals because Adam also worked for the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland (as they became in 1766, having been Earl and Countess from 1750) on the rehabilitation of near ruinous Alnwick Castle—from 1769 onwards—and their London residence, Northumberland House. For the latter, Adam created the famous Glass Drawing Room in 1770–75, a brilliant and glittering innovation, but the death of the intensely sociable Duchess in 1776 shortly after its completion seems to have stalled its chance of starting a new fashion.6 He also designed the Duchess’s magnificent monument in Westminster Abbey, the largest neoclassical monument in the abbey.7 Of all the grand domestic works, only the eloquent interiors of Syon—a grand “villa” usefully close to London, and even closer to the royal residences in Kew and Richmond—survive to any degree. Northumberland House was demolished in 1874, and Adam’s Gothic-style work on Alnwick Castle was swept away and replaced in the nineteenth century, although some park buildings survive.8 The Syon commission was an importantopportunity for Adam. The Duke (born Hugh Smithson, he changed his name to Percy on marriage) had risen from humbler gentry-mercantile stock, married well, and ably climbed the ladder to positions at court to become Viceroy of Ireland and an influential

The hall at Syon House is one of the greatest neoclassical interiors of any English house, created for the 1st Duke and Duchess of Northumberland by Adam as a symbolic reinterpretation of a Roman basilica during the 1760s. The hall was intended to display classical sculpture and ancient pieces; copies were acquired in Rome especially for Syon.

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all chefs d’oeuvre of Adam, a gallery 130 feet long, and a drawing room worthy of Eve before the Fall. Mrs. Childs’ dressing room is full of pictures, gold filigree, china and japan. So is all the house; the chairs are taken from antique lyres and make charming harmony; there are Salvators, Gaspar Poussins, and in a beautiful staircase, a ceiling by Rubens. Not to mention a kitchen-garden that costs £1,400 a year, a menagerie full of birds that come from a thousand islands.”4 It is a checklist of studied and glamorous effect. Such a list captures well the sheer range and intensity of the work by Adam in these great houses. At Osterley a Mrs. Agneta Yorke in 1777 observed: “one sees that no expence has been spared anywhere.”5 Adam’s main client at Osterley, Robert Child, was from a rich city dynasty, a director of Child & Co. bank and a director of the East India Company.6 In the 1770s another anonymous visitor recorded, “I was told that the above building cost one hundred and thirty thousand pounds; you will suppose the whole is something very extraordinary, when I tell you that it claims the attention of the King and every great personage in England.”7 But how did it feel when first completed? It was in effect a new house, already grand in scale and reinvented to speak of the classical world. The undeniably stately interiors were freshly contrived to carry the varied references to the classical literature and art which so amused the mid-Georgian elite (and helped to mark them out as people of education and status). The rooms were all laced together with the animating presence of mythological references and echoes of great Roman architecture which Adam had studied in Rome in the 1750s. All of this helped invite those who moved in these spacious rooms to see themselves in a brightly illuminated and elevated social world. But it should be said that the sequence of rooms presents something of a puzzle. For the extraordinary thing about Osterley’s story is the piecemeal approach, as different rooms or groups of rooms were designed and created in different sequence over a decade. Nonetheless, the cumulative effect after nearly ten years of Adam’s improvements, was obviously splendid, as Walpole’s account attests. Samuel Child, father of both Francis and Robert, regularized the shape of the house and moved the principal rooms to the first floor. His sons were both directors of the family bank and directors of the East India Company. Francis, the eldest, at first carried on with the spirit of his father’s improvements. In command of a great fortune, he was elected as a (Tory) MP for Bishop’s Castle, Shropshire.8 He first commissioned Adam in 1761.9 Adam immediately proposed a major rebuilding, suggesting they demolish the entire east range and reduce both the north and south ranges to improve the light and quality of the interior circuit. This proposal was rejected by the client, who was anxious about both cost and time, perhaps given that he was shortly to be married.10 It is not clear what had been done by his death in 1763. His brother, Robert, inherited, married Sarah Jodrell soon after, and continued to work on the house with Adam.

The entrance hall at Osterley Park was designed by Adam in 1767. The capitals of the pilasters are modelled on those from the Palace of Diocletian, an instantly recognisable reference to Adam’s own credentials. The panels of martial trophies in plaster are a typical decorative element in a hall, reflecting a long decorative tradition in the English country house of the display or arms.

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below  Adam’s design for the drawing room included a ceiling based on the Temple of the Sun from Robert Wood’s Ruins of Palmyra, 1753. John Linnell supplied the chairs and sofa for this room. The walls, hung in a nineteenth-century silk, were originally a “pea-green.”

pedestals and vases. The side table was designed to be piled high with silver. Mrs. Agneta Yorke, visiting in 1772, noted the side table “magnificently furnished with plate” with a “Massy & large silver Cistern” under it.16 The drawing room, on the south side of the house, was where guests would be received and to where the ladies would withdraw after dinner. The pier glasses and commodes were designed by Adam; James Linnell supplied the sofa and chairs. The ornate, compartmented ceiling was modelled on a favourite theme: plate XIXb from Robert Wood’s Ruins of Palmyra, 1753.17 The carpet, designed by Adam and made by Thomas More of Chiswell Street, was designed in a similar spirit.18 The state apartment, leading south from the drawing room, includes the tapestry room, state bedroom, and Etruscan dressing room. This group appears to have been carefully planned in 1772 with three richly decorated rooms

right  Adam and a sense of parade: the enfilade, looking from the drawing room, through the tapestry drawing room and state bedroom, toward the Etruscan Dressing Room.

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Changed likewise. The portico I made projecting, & bold dressings round the windows, the pavilion fronts are quite different & the Collonades [on the links] also & look well. Statues, etc. adorn the whole, an enriched frieze, & being done to a large Scale, it is magnificent … I have thrown in Large semicircular back courts with columns twixt the House and Wings.”8 The latter is revealing of the touches of plan form—partly inspired by Roman bath architecture—which Adam believed would change the character of country house architecture. James wrote enthusiastically, “it affords me the greatest pleasure that you have got Lascelles’s plan improv’d to your mind, & that you have tickled it up so as to dazzle the Eyes of the Squire.”9 Adam’s drawings were sent by Lascelles to the current arbiter of taste, Thomas Coke, the 1st Earl of Leicester, for approval, and to Carr for costing, before Adam got his reply. The project remained strictly in Carr’s hands (he included one of the semicircular courts but for various reasons it was finished as a square). Adam received the commission essentially for the interiors of the house, while Carr retained the role of architect and began the construction from 1759. Some of Adam’s architectural suggestions were included: namely, the projecting south-front portico, which was built (and even captured in a watercolour of the late 1790s by Turner of the south front) but demolished in the 1840s.10 When the engravings of Harewood appeared in Vitruvius Britannicus in 1771 the architecture was attributed to Carr alone, with the additional note that “the worthy owner has spared no expense in decoration of the principal apartments, from designs by Mr. Adam.”11 But, nonetheless, it was still a huge commission, and Adam was asked to decorate no less than seventeen rooms. Adam began energetically, and by the end of 1765 he had made ceiling and laid-out wall designs of all of the major rooms of reception.12 In 1766 and 1767 he designed the remainder of

the chimneypieces, although those for the gallery are dated between 1771 and 1774.13 The cabinetmaker Thomas Chippendale—London-based but a Yorkshire native—worked independently but alongside Adam and furnished most of the main rooms.14 This was one of the most valuable commissions of Chippendale’s career. 15 HistoryIt was a time-consuming business; Samuel James, Chippendale’s assistant took fifty-eight and a half days (working twelve hours a day) to organise the new bedrooms alone. William Reid, Chippendale’s upholsterer, was resident for nearly two years.16 Much original Chippendale furnishing (by father and son) thus survives in the house for which it was made. Lascelles, despite his great wealth, was also determined not to overspend and observed to Adam, “I would not exceed the limits of expense that I have always set myself. Let us do every thing properly & well mais pas trop.”17 Joseph Rose was responsible for most of the plasterwork, and John Devall carved a number of the chimneypieces. The stucco overmantel panels in the library are attributed to William Collins, who also supplied reliefs for the hall.18 Adam’s stately entrance hall, with bold Doric engaged columns, created the framework for a series of niches for sculpture and roundels depicting martial trophies in bas-relief. The approach to the saloon on the south side of the house was modulated by a wall treatment which echoed a triumphal arch in its central opening and paired niches. The niches on the east and west walls were originally square headed (rounded and lengthened in the 1840s) and housed suitable figures, Euterpe and Bacchante, and Night and Minerva, with Iris and Flora on the south wall towards the garden.19 The saloon—the central room on the south side—was given a coved ceiling by Adam. The room would have originally looked south through Adam’s portico; on the north the walls were broken up by two apses on either side of left  Harewood House, Yorkshire,

designed by John Carr, as seen from the south. Adam designed the interiors of the house, as well as a portico for this front, which was built but demolished in the 1840s by Sir Charles Barry. right  The hall columns were repainted porphyry in modern times, as they had been in the early nineteenth century, but not in Adam’s scheme. The bas-reliefs were by William Collins, and the panel seen here over the chimneypiece depicts the wedding of Neptune. The hall chairs are by Chippendale.

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Adam’s proposals for the Great Dining Room, Cumberland House, on Pall Mall, in the Etruscan style. The room was executed in around 1780–81 but later demolished, so it is not certain how much of this scheme was carried out. By courtesy of the trustees of Sir John Soane’s Museum.

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I I I   ·   A DA M A N D RO O M S C I RC U I T, PA R A D E A N D D I S P L AY

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124 adam and rooms

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The Little Drawing Room, a jewel of a room, has a sofa alcove set behind a screen of columns. The capitals are a nod to those observed in Diocletian’s Palace; the painted decoration, based on antique sources, is by Biagio Rebecca.

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iii  ·  adam and rooms

N O S T E L L P R I O RY Nostell Priory, Yorkshire, was one of Robert Adam’s longest and most productive commissions, but once again he was completing and updating a sequence of rooms within a house already largely built.1 His patron, Sir Rowland Winn, 5th Baronet, held Adam in especially high esteem as a designer and a friend and took a connoisseur’s relish in the work of Adam, Zucchi, and Chippendale, who all worked here together, beginning around 1736. As with many of Adam’s country house projects, the house they worked on was begun by the patron’s father, in this case Sir Rowland Winn, 4th Bt., who had been on his Grand Tour in the 1720s.2 The first designs for the Palladian-style house may possibly have been by the Scottish architect Colen Campbell (d. 1729).3 This original design was for a central range with four pavilions connected by curved wings, inspired by Palladio’s unbuilt (but published) Villa Mocenigo. A gentleman-architect, Colonel James Moyser, a friend of the great Lord Burlington, was also involved before the young architect James Paine was engaged. Paine went on to work there for the next thirty years. In 1750 Richard Pococke recorded seeing “an old mansion almost destroyed” and “a large new house, which is the most convenient I have seen … about ten rooms on a floor.”4 But Adam’s client was not so convinced. Sir Rowland was a sophisticated figure and had studied on the continent at Lausanne and Geneva, where he had married one Sabine May.5 So when, in 1765, he inherited the half-finished house, he felt it was just not up to date or smart enough. He swiftly approached Adam to take on the completion and to provide for more up-to-date neoclassical interiors. In some cases this was working within Paine’s already executed decorative schemes, but in four of the key rooms of reception Adam effected a major transformation, which, in the case of the entrance hall in particular, changed the architectural character of the house.In 1766 Adam appointed Benjamin Ware as executant architect and prepared his new designs for Sir Rowland.6 The first room to be designed, and to be completed in 1767, was the library. This is a handsome, square room, with the most carefully considered, refined ornament. The symmetrically arranged pedimented bookcases and a pedimented overmantel give it a strongly

Nostell Priory, Yorkshire. A detail of the Adam-designed giltwood pier table and mirror for the saloon shows characteristic swags of husks and cameo-like ovals.

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Mellerstain as seen from the south. The lower pavilion wings (visible to each side) were designed in the 1720s by William Adam, Robert Adam’s father, but the main central block of his plan was never realised. Adam did propose adding crenellation to his father’s wings, which was not carried out.

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been on an extensive Grand Tour in the early 1740s, in Rome and Geneva, with his brother and an eccentric tutor, the Rev. John Williamson.4 Baillie decided to complete the building and asked Robert Adam, who offered a design in the castle style, which was a relatively new departure for him (although he had already employed it at Ugbrooke Park in Devon for the 4th Lord Clifford, designed in 1763, not completed until 1771, and Whitehaven Castle in Northumberland in 1766 onwards for Sir James Lowther, 5th Bt).5 The choice of the castle style may reflect a new fashion, and one for which Adam was to develop a considerable reputation. It may also have been a nod to the historic tower house that had been on the site, and to the family’s lineage and anxieties about his great-grandfather’s treason. Adam’s design was notably plain in external detail, save for the crenellation. 6 Familial affection and economy may also have dictated the retention of the two existing William Adam–designed pavilions. Surviving drawings show that Robert Adam had wanted to remodel the pavilions into a matching castle style, or at least re-dress them with suitable crenellations to bring the ensemble together, but this was never carried out.7 The siting and proportions of the pavilion wings nonetheless played a formative role in the design of the new central block: this is a surprisingly long and thin, seventeen-bay, E-shaped building, divided into three three-storey, towerlike elements linked by twostorey ranges in between. The whole is raised over a basement, which gives it a markedly elevated presence in the landscape to the south. The main works were complete by 1770, while interior decoration continued until around 1778. Mellerstain’s interiors were among the most lavish examples executed in Scotland by Adam. One plasterer named Powell is referred to in a letter by Adam of 1778 as having “behaved so ungratefully,” but whether he was responsible for any ceilings we cannot know.8 Thomas Clayton the younger was once suggested, as he is known to have worked at Inverarary and Edinburgh, but he is not referred to in any of the surviving documents (Thomas Clayton the elder had also worked with William Adam).9 A decorative carver, James Adamson of Edinburgh, is listed in the accounts. Adam’s engaging letter to George Baillie of early 1778 is illustrative of the conversations between Adam and his clients on these subjects: “I see no objections to you putting ornaments in these spaces though the ceilings should remain plain, as they belong to the upright walls of the room and have no connection with the ceiling. I shall return you the drawing of the gallery ornament so soon as I have your answer, as I shall immediately make account and send you the parts of the ornaments at large for decorating the execution. . . . I shall do my best to please you in the drawing you desire for your ceilings. . . . They shall be plain and elegant and not expensive.”10 The latter was a particularly well-judged point that might be applied to several of his major Scottish commissions, which had notably restrained interiors (although Mellerstain’s interiors were hardly that). The central entrance hall was designed with Adam’s characteristic apsidal ends with niches for sculpture—indeed, it has something of the character of MELLERSTAIN 175

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The realisation of this great staircase was as exciting in its execution as in its original design and differed only in some details. The grisaille decoration, painted panels, and plasterwork provide diversion for visitors as they take the stairs to the first-floor rooms. The graining is early nineteenth century.

222  DREAM PALACES

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PRIVATE PALACES: LONDON  223

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Robert Adam  

A new book from Rizzoli. ISBN: 978-0-8478-4851-5 On sale: 3/28/17

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