Robert Adam: The Father of British Neoclassicism

Robert Adam (1728 – 1792) was one of the most celebrated architects of his day. As one of the most influential of the architects at the time, it was he who introduced the Neo-Classical style to Britain in the late 1750's. He combined a brilliant talent as an architectural decorator with active self-promotion. From 1773 he published his designs and those of his brother James in four volumes, which remained the leading British design for more than two decades.

In 1754, he left for Rome, spending nearly five years on the continent studying architecture under Charles-Louis Clérisseau and Giovanni Battista Piranesi. On his return to Britain he established a practice in London, where he was joined by his younger brother James. Here he developed the "Adam Style", and his theory of "movement" in architecture, based on his studies of antiquity and became one of the most successful and fashionable architects in the country. Adam held the post of Architect of the King's Works from 1761 to 1769. By the 1770’s , the conquest of Robert Adam and his brother James was complete: the rich had Adam and the middle classes had Adamesque. There was complete coherence of taste.

Robert Adam's ceiling at Harewood House

Robert Adam designed Great Hall at Harewood House

Details of Robert Adam designed decorations in the Great Hall at Harewood House

Robert Adam's ceiling in the Great Hall at Harewood House

Robert Adam designed Great Hall at Harewood House

Robert Adam designed Great Hall at Harewood House

Robert Adam's ceiling in the Great Hall at Harewood House

Robert Adam's ceiling at Harewood House

Robert Adam's ceiling at Harewood House

Robert Adam's ceiling at Harewood House

Detail of Robert Adam's frieze at Harewood House

Robert Adam's alcove design at Harewood House

Robert Adam's ceiling at Harewood House

Window shutter detail: The Adam brothers' success can also be attributed to a desire to design everything down to the smallest detail, ensuring a sense of unity in their design.

Matthew Boulton produced candelabras after Adam's designs

Robert Adam's ceiling in the Spanish Library at Harewood House

Robert Adam's ceiling and frieze in the Spanish Library at Harewood House

Detail of Robert Adam's ceiling in the State Bedroom at Harewood House

Robert Adam's ceiling in the State Bedroom at Harewood House

Robert Adam designed the carpet to compliment the ceiling in the Music Room at Harewood House

Detail of Robert Adam's ceiling in the Music Room at Harewood House

Robert Adam's fireplace surround in the Music Room at Harewood House

Robert Adam's ceiling in the Old Library at Harewood House

Robert Adam's ceiling in the Old Library at Harewood House

Detail of Robert Adam designed Hall at Nostell Priory

Detail of Robert Adam designed Hall at Nostell Priory

Detail of Robert Adam designed Hall at Nostell Priory

Detail of Robert Adam designed Hall at Nostell Priory

Detail of Robert Adam designed console table top at Nostell Priory

Detail of Robert Adam style bookcase at Nostell Priory

Robert Adam's ceiling at Culzean Castle, Scotland

Detail of Robert Adam's ceiling at Culzean Castle, Scotland

Detail of Robert Adam's ceiling at Culzean Castle, Scotland

Robert Adam rejected the Palladian style, as introduced to England by Inigo Jones, and advocated by Lord Burlington, as "ponderous" and "disgustful". However, he continued their tradition of drawing inspiration directly from classical antiquity, during his four-year stay in Europe. Through the adoption of classical motifs, Adam developed a new style of architectural decoration.

The Adam brothers' principle of "movement" was largely Robert's conception, although the theory was first written down by James. "Movement" relied on dramatic contrasts and diversity of form, and drew on the picturesque aesthetic. The first volume of the Adam brother's Works (1773) cited Kedleston Hall, designed by Robert in 1761, as an outstanding example of movement in architecture. By contrasting room sizes and decorative schemes, Adam applied the concept of movement to his interiors also. His style of decoration, described by Pevsner as "Classical Rococo", drew on Roman "grotesque"stucco decoration.

Robert Adam and his architect rivals often designed furniture and other objects, not only for their architectural clients but also for general production by manufacturers.

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