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ROBERT ADAM (1728-92)

Design of a Bridge Illuminated in Honour of His Majesty's Birth Day, The 4th June 1763. By Order of Her Majesty


RCIN 917643.c

A pen and ink and watercolour design for a bridge with a scale of feet below, circumscribed by a ruled ink border. Inscribed with the title and signed "Robt Adam Architect."

This drawing, along with RCINs 917643A, 917643B and 917643D, relate to the illuminations planned by Queen Charlotte at Buckingham House as a surprise to mark George III's twenty-fifth birthday. These designs are the proposals submitted by Adam for a temporary structure to be erected in the garden of Buckingham House in June 1763 at the time of the celebrations to mark the start of royal occupation of the house, purchased in the previous year. In the event, the design for the simpler structure was used. A detailed description of The King's birthday party, which took place at night and employed 4,000 lamps, is included in the Gentleman’s Magazine. Adam also made perspective views of both versions of the screen (NGA, Washington, inv. no. 1990.100.1 and V&A, London, inv. no. E.356-1988), which clarify the importance of the ‘transparencies’ (large back-lit pictures, within the main architectural features) in the design. The subject of the transparencies alluded to the King’s role as peace-maker - following the signing of the Treaty of Paris and the end of the Seven Years War in the same year. This style of decoration had been popular on the continent for many years: in France, Rome and also in Mecklenburg, where a small-scale ‘illumination’ had been staged to celebrate the forthcoming marriage of the future Queen Charlotte in 1761. It appears that some of the materials used in Adam’s 1763 screen were reused by Chambers in 1768, for the pavilion erected in Richmond at the time of the visit of the King’s brother-in-law, Christian VII of Denmark.

In common with many of the other artists and craftsmen employed by the King immediately after his accession, Adam owed his introduction to his fellow Scotsman, the Earl of Bute. It may have been through Bute that both Adam and Chambers were appointed Joint Architects to the Board of Works in November 1761. In the event, however, Chambers proved to be an ideal royal servant while Adam worked more comfortably - and successfully - for private patrons. The chic and ornate style of Adam’s decoration did not entirely please the King whose sixth son, Prince Augustus, reminded him (in 1791) of his previously stated views on Adam’s work at Syon House: ‘two [sic] much gilding, which puts me in mind of ginger-bread. Mere simplicity will always bear the preference’. Nine years later, Farington reported a telling remark by the King: ‘I am a little of an Architect and think that the Old school (meaning that of Lord Burlingtons period which had more of magnificence) is not enough attended to, - that the Adams’s have introduced too much of neatness & prettiness’.

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