Robert Adam, Designer for the Ages

Victoria here, recently home from an antique show in 2011 Naples, Florida — where there was a great deal of attention to the designs of an 18th century Scotsman, the renowned Robert Adam. I stopped counting how many tables, chairs, commodes, candlesticks and more were labeled “in the style of Adam.” More than 200 years after he lived, Adam’s designs are the standard by which all others are measured.

We’ve had many posts on Adam houses here (3/29/10, 3/31/10,4/3/10,6/5/10, 1/16/11) and there will be more soon.

Robert Adam (1728-92) and his brother James (1730-1794) both gained prominence as architects, though it is Robert who has the more brilliant reputation. Today, Adam style is popular and instantly recognizable, whether in a fireplace, a chair or decorative arts.

Sons of William Adam, a leading architect in Edinburgh, the Adam Brothers were contemporaries of Sir Joshua Reynolds and Sir Thomas Gainsborough, Capability Brown, the great landscape designer, and Thomas Chippendale, whose furniture graces many Adam designs. Adam and his brothers worked in their father’s business and also attended school in Edinburgh. The elder Adam was not only an architect; he was a man of learning and his home was the scene of conversations among some of the leading intellectuals of his day such as Adam Smith, Alexander Carlyle, and David Hume. This atmosphere influenced his
sons as they grew up.

The library at Mellerstain House in Scotland is an example of designs begun by William Adam and finished later by son Robert. The firm continued under the brothers after the father died and they had received a number of commissions before Robert Adam left for his Grand Tour of Italy at the age of 26.

Clearly Robert had aspirations as a gentleman and prided himself in letters home on his acquaintances among the British gentry and aristocracy whom he met in Italy. Adam studied with the painter Panini, Piranesi and others who honed his knowledge of classical art. He became a friend and competitor of William Chambers, who gained fame as the architect of Somerset House, the Strand, London.

Robert Adam returned to England in 1758 and took up his practice, cultivating clients among the highest circles. Many of Adam’s greatest accomplishments were in remodeling or adapting the original plans for buildings under construction; he was not without enemies.

At left, the Oval Staircase at Culzean Castle, also in Scotland.
Adam’s work is known for its sense of scale, of the human dimension in design. He adapted neoclassical, baroque and rococo themes in forms that delighted the eye without overwhelming the senses. His style has been repeated over and over in various “revivals.”

Adam designed houses with layouts suitable for various kinds of parties, with rooms set up for promenading, greeting friends, and engaging in various activities. One room might be reserved for cards, another for dancing, another for conversation. Adam liked to emphasize the drama of the house by changing design themes and colors from room to room. Recurring elements of design such as the acanthus leaf were woven throughout, giving the rooms a feeling of unity.

Ceiling designs were reflected in the carpet patterns. From time to time he chose special themes drawn from his experiences and from the popular design books that circulated in the period. For example, the ruins at Pompeii had been excavated in the 18th century and the wall paintings reproduced and published.

While the major elements of Adam design grew out of Palladianism and its inspiration in Italy, one can also identify the influences of French artists such as Claude and Poussin, whose paintings of idyllic classical scenes featuring ancient ruins, were very popular in the 18th century.

Adam was an architect who wanted to control all elements of the design interior and exterior. He hired excellent furniture makers, such as Chippendale, and employed the most respected artists for interior decoration, such as Antonio Zucchi and Angelica Kauffman.

Dozens of volumes have been written about Adam, his buildings, his interior designs, his artistic theories and his lasting influences.  You could easily spend your life learning about and visiting his creations. We’ll be looking at a few more very soon right here.

In the meantime, we start with the sublime.  This is the Adam-designed Pulteney Bridge in Bath across the  Avon. Truly a beautiful structure.

And to descend to the ridiculous, here is an over-the-top effort to convert a modern bathroom to the ideas of Adam’s style.  What do you think?  Would you prefer a chandelier in your loo? 
 
 
 

The London and Waterloo Tour – Hampstead, the Heath and Kenwood House and Gardens

What can I say about Hampstead Heath except that it lives in the mind as a preserve for brigands and highwaymen; a wild and woolly expanse of nature that can only be traversed at one’s peril? Okay, okay, I know that it has shrunk’s considerably in size until it now totals 790 acres and that the Heath has grown decidedly tame, more’s the pity, but I still want to see it with me own eyes. Located just four miles from Trafalgar Square, the Heath is one of the highest points in London, includes 26 ponds, a few bogs and includes an area of land that runs from Hampstead to Highgate.

In June, I want to visit Hampstead and see the Heath. Hampstead is supposed to be worth a trip in and of itself, a picture postcard pocket of London. I’m looking forward to exploring an area of London I haven’t seen before and to strolling the streets and promenade, visiting the shops and the Spring at Well Walk and to simply enjoying the scenery. Oh, and to stopping in at Louis Patisserie, which everyone says has the best cakes and pastry ever. Afterwards, I plan to head out on foot across the Heath to Kenwood House.

Kenwood House is a former stately home on Hampstead Heath with an art collection boasting Rembrandts, Turners, Reynolds, Gainsboroughs and Vermeers. The House itself is a stunning neoclassical white villa whose Adam Library is considered one of the most important rooms designed by Robert Adam in the country. The home was owned by the great judge, Lord Mansfield. Later Earls of Mansfield redesigned the parkland and Kenwood remained in the family until 1922.
When developers attempted to buy the estate, the house and grounds were saved for the public by the brewing magnate, Edward Cecil Guinness, the first Earl of Iveagh, who bought Kenwood House and 74 acres of parkland in 1925. In 1928, when he died, the Earl bequeathed the Kenwood Estate and part of his collection of pictures to the nation. As you may expect, I’m especially anxious to see The Brummell Children, painted 1781-82 by Sir Joshua Reynolds. Yes, that Brummell, and his brother, William.

This is the first year that I’ve been gardening seriously – from digging out the garden, to planting it and to babying it. So I’m especially eager to see Kenwood’s gardens, which were laid out by Humphry Repton in the 1790s. Thankfully, the farm, dairy, stables, kitchen garden, lakes, woods and meadows are all still in existence, as is Repton’s strictly ornamental false bridge shown at right. You can read more about the gardens here.
Oh, and if you happen to be a Blondie fan, she’ll be giving a concert at Kenwood House Saturday, 26 June 2010 at 7:30 p.m.

My London by Victoria Hinshaw

Inspired by Kristine’s London, posted on April 7, 2010, I decided to write about MY London.

I first visited as a college student and remember only Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, a few nameless pubs, and the Tower of London. My next visit was a few years later, shortly before Christmas. I loved the lights on Regent’s Street and my introduction to Liberty, a fabulous store to which I return almost every time I get to England. Once I finished my holiday shopping, I attended a performance of Handel’s The Messiah at St. Paul’s Cathedral in the presence of the Queen Mother. I actually got a glimpse of her as she entered. Needless to say it was a memorable experience.

An aside about Liberty of London. Have you seen the great stuff now in Target Stores from Liberty? They have a current ad campaign in lots of glossy mags such as Vogue and Vanity Fair.

Although I adore the great museums of London: the British Museum, the National Gallery, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and many more, I have a special affinity for the smaller museums where I can browse without rushing to be sure I don’t miss anything. One of these is Apsley House, the home of the first Duke of Wellington, but Kristine has already described it, so I will just say, “Me too.”

Among my faves is Sir John Soane’s Museum in Lincoln’s Inn Square. Soane (1753-1837) was a brilliant architect. His house was not only a residence but also his school at which he trained young architects. It sums up all that is generous and eccentric about the British character, at least to me, for he left it to the nation to be open free in perpetuity.

Typical of the convoluted sagas of many British families is the story behind the Wallace Collection, an outstanding art museum in Hertford House, Manchester Square. The entire tale is told on their website; it includes royal mistresses, stupendous fortunes, illegitimate sons, marriage to a floozie, and generous public bequests.
 

Another museum I enjoy visiting is the Geffrye Collection of period rooms. right.

I’ll mention two more small museums I like:

The Hunterian Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons, just across Lincoln’s Inn Fields from Sir John Soane’s. It was begun in 1799 and has some of the original collections, including  John Hunter’s (1728-1793) on the development of bones as well as specimens collected by renowned botanist Sir Joseph Banks (1743–1820).

And the Fan Museum in Greenwich. Not as famous as Greenwich’s other museums or the Observatory, but delightful all the same.

I often spend time pawing around in libraries and research centers, so I have to include The British Library, the National Archives, the Family Record Center, the Westminster Archives, the Colindale Newspaper Archives of the BL, and the Guildhall Library, all of which have helped my researching. This trip in June 2010 will mark my first trips to the VandA Art Library and the Hertfordshire Archives. Wish me luck!! I know there are lots of you out there who, like Kristine and me, love to pour over new sources of information wherever they are. Someday I want to obtain a membership in the London Library in St. James Square, the epitome of a research heaven.

As I have outlined before, I adore exploring houses, both modest and sumptuous. Among less pretentious are the Dickens House and the Carlyle House, where we see how the merely comfortable lived. But the big treasure houses are even more fun. Three of my favorites are out in the suburbs today, but they were once country retreats.

Anyone who loves the stories of Sally, Lady Jersey (see this blog’s post of April 2, 2010) should visit Osterley Park. There she (granddaughter of the banker Robert Child)and her husband entertained lavishly. The house is magnificent and well worth the trouble of getting there.

Ante Room, Syon

The same thing goes for Syon House, home of the Dukes of Northumberland, which has perfect Robert Adam décor. The circuit of rooms, from the starkly classical black and white of the entrance hall, through the brilliantly colored Ante-Room to the dining room, the Red Drawing Room and the Library, provides the ideal impression of a great country house.

Chiswick House

The third outlying property is Chiswick House, the Palladian model built by the 3rd Earl of Burlington in 1729. It became the property of his youngest daughter, Lady Charlotte Boyle, wife of the 4th Duke of Devonshire. During the time of the Fifth Duke and his Duchess Georgiana, it was a center of aristocratic social and political life. The house is a perfect jewel box surrounded by a lovely garden.

Now that I am sounding rather like a travelogue, I want to advise visitors to London to take advantage of the reasonably priced and never disappointing London Walks. I have never had a bad experience with any of their offerings, and I have taken many including Explorer Days Out. The only problem is that the crowds get large during the height of the tourist season. Just make sure that you are dealing with the original London Walks, not some rip-off outfit.

In the many times I’ve been to London, I’ve stayed in all sorts of places, from huge tourist hotels (dumps) to small BandBs to one memorable interlude at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park (guess which I liked best). I’ve rented apartments in several neighborhoods and a house in Chelsea. London is hard on the budget, but if you look carefully, there are reasonable accommodations and almost-inexpensive food choices (try Indian).

Over the years, I was lucky enough to see Rufus Sewell play Septimus in Arcadia by Tom Stoppard (probably the most exciting night of theatre I’ve had), the Royal Shakespeare company and several operas at Covent Garden. I wish they would have fewer Broadway musicals in London – the two cities sometimes seem almost interchangeable (Lion King, Chicago, Chorus Line, etc. etc. etc.—who cares?). But I admit I love to see British plays when they come to the U.S., so I am totally hypocritical on this topic!

Just so this is not an endless list (which it could easily be) or more stuff that sounds too much like bragging, I will conclude My London with another fun pub, worth visiting for its décor as well as its pints. Blackfriar’s Pub is usually jammed. So be prepared to wait for a table. Take along a book!

In closing, I quote the inimitable Dr. Johnson (1709-1784):
“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”

That goes for this woman too!

Boodle's Club

During the Regency and Victorian eras, Boodle’s Club, in St. James’s Street, was noted for the number of baronets who were members. It’s been recorded that when a waiter called out “Sir John, you are wanted,” a whole host of gentlemen would at once respond. This is rather a quaint anecdote, but it must be remembered that the club was established chiefly for “county people,” who had a proper respect for their own importance. Until the late 19th century, before Boodle’s came under the management of a committee, there was a kind of secret tribunal, the members of which were fictitiously supposed to be unknown. “This conclave conducted its proceedings with great secrecy, and its very existence was only inferred from the fact that at intervals, varying from six months to fifteen years, some printed notices appeared in the club rooms.” But these notices only referred to dogs or strangers, who were looked upon by the ancient members as very objectionable intruders.
Another rule was that members dining in the coffee room must wear evening dress. However, there was another apartment for those who found it necessary to keep to their morning clothes. Boodle’s was very strict and chaste on etiquette laws. Boodle’s Club was originally known as the “Savoir Vivre,” and took its particular name from the founder, and was established, like many of the other famous clubs of the day, in St. James’s Street.Gaiety and the joy of good living marked its early career very conspicuously, as may be gathered from “the Heroic Epistle to Sir William Chambers,” I773:
For what is Nature ? Ring her changes round,
Her three flat notes are water, plants, and ground ;
Prolong the peal, yet, spite of all your clatter,
The tedious chime is still ground, plants and water ;
So, when some John his dull invention racks,
To rival Boodle’s dinners or Almack’s,
Three uncouth legs of mutton shock our eyes,
Three roasted geese, three buttered apple pies.
White’s, Brookes’s, and Boodle’s for many years fought for supremacy, with masquerades, dinners, and “ridottos.” Boodle’s outside appearance is still very unpretentious, and perhaps sombre, from an architectural point of view, but the interior has a number of interesting features, especially in regard to some of the pictures by Gillray and others.
Among the exceedingly eccentric members of the club, two at least are deserving of passing comment. Michael Angelo Taylor, at one time M.P., and John, the tenth Earl of Westmorland. Taylor was “Paul Pry ” personified, and was an everlasting gossip. The Earl was very thin. Coming in one day, says Edward Walford in “Old and New London,” Taylor found Lord Westmorland, who had just dined off a roast fowl and a leg of mutton. “Well, my lord,” said Taylor, “I can’t make out where you have stowed away your dinner, for I can see no trace of your ever having dined in your bare body.” “Upon my word, I have finished both, and could now go in for another helping,” replied Westmorland. Walford adds that his lordship was notorious for his prodigious appetite, and on several occasions was known to have eaten the better part of a good joint and a couple of fowls.
The Club house, at No. 28 St. James’s Street, was designed by the Adams brothers and erected by John Crunden about 1765. The saloon on the first floor at Boodle’s is still noted for the stateliness of its appearance, opening from which on each side are two small apartments. One of these, according to tradition, was, in the Regency days of high play, managed by a cashier who issued counters and occupied himself with the details connected with the game; while the other room was reserved for special gambling members who wished to play in quietude.
It was not an easy matter to be elected a member of Boodle’s, and when Mr. Gayner became the manager, he would sit in state in a small chamber adjacent to the principal saloon, or front room, which, of course, was sacred to the members. Says Ralph Nevill, “When a candidate was proposed they (the members) walked across and deposited their black or white balls, after which they retired again to the front room. After a short time Mr. Gayner would shout ‘elected’ or ‘not elected,’ as the case might be, the ceremonial being gone through separately for every candidate.” But Mr. Gayner, it is said, took no account of the balls, but scrutinized all who were proposed from his peep-hole, and if they did not meet with his approval the black ball predominated.

Mr. Gayner, notwithstanding, was a very liberal and kind man, and prevented many a young fellow from getting into the hands of the money lenders and usurers who were in constant wait for the young unfledged geese who were ready to be plucked, by advancing them the wherewithal to assist them out of impending difficulties. There are several anecdotes in regard to his generosity and kindness in such cases. He always kept a large amount of cash in his safe, and at his death is said to have been owed no less than £10,000, which, however, by a clause in his will, was not to be demanded from the borrowers. After his death, Mr. Gaynor’s sister succeeded him in the proprietorship of Boodle’s. She died in 1896, when the club was purchased by its members.

Bowood and the Lansdowne Family

By Vicky Hinshaw

Bowood House, c. 1890

In May of 2009, my husband and I spent two weeks in England, another trip to feed my near-fanatical interest in all things historical and British. Our first stop after arriving was in Wiltshire, where we stayed at the lovely Stanton Manor Country Hotel.

As always, I had a long agenda for the trip, centering on visits to stately homes and the opportunity to learn about the families who lived in them. Number one on the list was Bowood, the country estate of the Petty-Fitzmaurice family, perhaps better known by the title of the head of the family, the Marquess of Lansdowne.

The area of the Bowood estate was part of the forest of Chippenham and belonged to the crown until the early 18th century when a house was begun on the ancient site of a hunting lodge. The first Earl of Shelburne purchased the unfinished property in 1754 and enlarged the house. His son, the 2nd earl and first Marquess of Lansdowne, hired famed Scottish architect Robert Adam (who had designed Lansdowne House in London) to further enhance the house and build an adjacent orangery and a menagerie (housing a leopard and an orangutan); Adam also built a mausoleum for the 1st earl in the extensive parklands surrounding the house.

After WWII, when Bowood was used by the Royal Air Force, the main house was left empty and decaying. In 1955, the 8th Marquess had it pulled down. The orangery and adjacent buildings were remodeled to house the family and its collections.

Bowood Today

The Adam Dining Room from the demolished big house is now the board room of Lloyd’s of London in their City headquarters.

Beginning in the 1760’s, Lancelot “Capability” Brown (who else?) designed the gardens, which include a lake, a classical temple and rolling fields. Two decades later, picturesque elements were added: a grotto, waterfalls, and a wilderness. In the 2,000 acre parklands, magnificent Rhododendrons bloom every spring. This impressive display, begun in the 19th century, includes many rare species. Wandering through the colorful scene, over the carpet of bright bluebells and beside blossoms of every shade was a most delightful way to spend a May afternoon in 2009 for my husband and I. As we strolled, we came to the sober Adam-designed mausoleum which now houses the remains of generations of family members.

Today Bowood has built a popular children’s adventure playground, full of birthday parties and eager celebrants on the day we passed. The rooms on exhibition at house (formerly the Orangery and associated buildings) include a magnificent library with fireplace and furniture from the old house and the laboratory where Joseph Priestly studied gasses and discovered oxygen in 1774.
The Library
The Sculpture Gallery

The art collection has many paintings associated with family members such as Admiral Lord Keith, great-grandfather of the 5th Marquess. Keith officially accepted the surrender of Napoleon Bonaparte on behalf of the British crown in 1815.

Admiral Lord Keith

Admiral Lord Keith’s daughter was Margaret Mercer Elphinstone, close confidant and correspondent of Princess Charlotte of Wales (daughter of the Prince Regent, later George IV). After the Princess died in 1817, Meg married the Comte de Flahault, who served as an Aide-de-camp to Napoleon. Though her distinguished father disapproved, the Comte was well liked and friendly with many Whigs such as Lord Holland and the Duke of Bedford, and the Admiral grew fond of him.

 General Comte de Flahalt

Margaret Mercer Elphinstone,
Baroness Keith, Comtesse de Flahault

Meg, an heiress both from her father and her late mother, was well known in regency-era society. She was a good friend of the poet Lord Byron and received from him the Albanian costume in which he was painted about 1813. Meg also was portrayed in the outfit which is on display at Bowood. Meg succeeded her father as Baroness Keith. She was known in England by the latter title and as Comtesse de Flahault in France. She and her husband divided their time among homes in Scotland, London and Paris. Emily de Flahault, daughter of the Comte and Meg, married the 4th Marquess of Lansdowne and is the mother of the fifth Marquess.

Byron in Albanian Dress, Artist: Thomas Phillips, c. 1813
Meg in Byron’s Albanian costume

Bowood is not only a fascinating piece of history; it is part of the evolving fate of the English Country House. In today’s difficult economy, such a property must pay its own way. Supporting a family and employees, upkeep and renovations, cascading expenses and taxes – are almost crippling in their combined effects. While many institutions provide assistance (usually in exchange for public access), adequate funding usually means all sorts of services and events that bring in paying customers. The house and garden are just what I love, but the vast majority of the customers when we were there were at the children’s Adventure Playground. Bowood has also opened a golf resort and fine restaurant nearby. A quick perusal of the website will tell the story clearly.