Madam, I’m Adam

by Margaret McAvoy

Yes, dear clever reader…it’s a palindrome.  But, more challengingly, if you can tell me the movie from which it comes (used intentionally as a palindrome in the dialogue), then forever we will be fast friends and pen pals!

However, today it’s not the palindrome that’s of much importance, but rather one of the most rightfully prolific architects, our dear Scotsman Robert Adam (1728-1792).

You may not know the name (although I should hope that you do!), but you very likely know the architecture.  The list of his works is extensive, including Kedleston Hall (South elevation) in Derbyshire, Pulteney Bridge in Bath, and General Register House in Edinburgh.  Early in his career, Robert apprenticed with his brothers, John and James, with their father, architect William Adam, known for the likes of Inveraray Castle.  After a European sojourn of architectural studies, he returned to Britain to establish the architectural firm with his brother, James.  While continuing the work of their deceased father, they also received their first commission for an entirely new construction, the handsome Dumfries House, Ayrshire.

After having fallen into disrepair, it was most recently intercepted from the auction block by Prince Charles, as he has long been a loyal advocate of Britain’s architectural heritage.  For a more elaborate article about the gem that is Dumfries House, please see the February issue of Architectural Digest, with a bonnie kilt-clad Prince Charles on the cover.

And, like so many successful men in history, he had multiple talents.  Some of his landscapes, both actual and folly, are lovely, as seen below.

Another of those talents was designing furniture.  He and James believed in unity of design, and this aspect could readily be accomplished if they also designed the interiors and furnishings for their architectural commissions.  Our own American darling of many years later, Dorothy Draper, would approve highly of this approach.

And so it is that I leave you with perhaps my latest of infatuations:  that of a stunning sofa, depicting mermaids and sea gods, which was produced after drawings by none other than Robert Adam.  This unbelievable piece resides at Kedleston Hall, managed by the National Trust.  If you haven’t yet seen it, please do take a moment to visit the always-interesting site of National Trust Treasure Hunt, managed by very friendly and extremely knowledgeable Emile de Bruijn.  It is a treat for history buffs and design enthusiasts alike, and you will undoubtedly learn as much from the well-informed comments!

Image of portrait of Robert Adam, c. 1770-75, attributed to George Willison, kindly via National Portrait Gallery.

Image of Dumfries House, Ayrshire, Scotland, kindly via Dumfries House.

Images of magazine cover and interior images of Dumfries House, kindly via Architectural Digest.

Image of watercolor folly landscape, Robert Adam, c. 1750, kindly via Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland

Image of watercolor Cullen Castle, Banffshire, Scotland, Robert Adam, c. 1770-80, kindly via National Galleries Scotland.

Image of Dining Room, Saltram, Devon, England, and image of Great Hall, Syon House, London, England, photos by A. F. Kersting, kindly via Brittanica Encyclopedia.

Image of sofa, 1765, John Linnell, interpreting original drawings by Robert Adam, Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire, England, kindly via National Trust, ©NTPL/Nadia Mackenzie.