Robert Adam (1729–92)

Adam was a son of architect William Adam, Scotland's foremost architect of his day, and trained under him. With his older brother John, Robert took on the family business after William's death. In 1754 he left for Rome, spending nearly five years on the continent studying architecture under Charles-Louis Clérisseau and Giovanni Battista Piranesi, absorbing the creations of classical antiquity. He returned to Britain via Split in Dalmatia (now Croatia), where he studied the Roman ruins of Diocletian’s Palace, publishing the results in 1764.

 Back in London by 1758, he established an architectural practice with his younger brother James. They focused on designing complete schemes for the decoration and furnishing of houses down to the smallest detail, to create a sense of unity.  Neo-Palladian design was popular, and Robert amalgamated this with his own classical ideas, creating what came to be known as the Adam style – new and more flexible, incorporating elements of classical Roman design alongside influences from Greek, Byzantine and other ancient styles.

In 1773 the Adam brothers published engravings of their designs under the title Works in Architecture. The plates illustrated the neo-classical columns and pediments along with festoons, medallions, swags and urns they favoured for their interiors. Wedgwood was eager to take advantage of this, producing appropriate vases, urns and architectural plaques; he also adopted Adam’s colour schemes for the production of jasper. Robert Adam was not as enthusiastic about the jasper tablets as Stuart, however they were used in some of his interiors.

Adam became one of the most successful architects of his day, and his work influenced the development of Western architecture, both in Europe and in North America. He was leader of the first phase of the classical revival in England and Scotland from around 1760 until his death, and held the post, with Sir William Chambers, as Architect of the Kings Works from 1761–1769. Chambers, his rival and critic, was the official leading British architect of the era, but Adam received many important commissions from private clients and had a more lasting stylistic influence.

 

Images

A section of an Adam architectural design

A section of an Adam architectural design