Robert Adam at Hatchlands Park

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The interior at Hatchlands Park is the earliest documented work in an English country house by Robert Adam, the celebrated Scottish neoclassical architect, interior designer and furniture designer.

The Grand Tour

Adam trained as an architect under his father William, eventually taking on the family business with his brother John. With proceeds from this business Robert set off on a Grand Tour of France and Italy in 1754, intending to meet potential clients and produce a successful and influential publication. He studied under artists and architects including Charles-Louis Clerisseau and Giovanni Battista Piranesi.

He eventually decided on the ruins of a Roman Palace in Dalmatia, or Split in modern day Croatia, as the primary site for his study. He returned to London in 1758 with hundreds of drawings which were published in 1764. The resulting publication called ‘Ruins of the Palace of the Emperor Diocletian at Spalatro in Dalmatia’ was a triumph. A specially bound copy was presented to King George III.

A new business

When Robert returned from his tour in 1758 he opened a new architectural practice in London with his brother James. Initially they focused on producing designs for the interiors of houses but later moved on to schemes for entire buildings.

The commission from Admiral Boscawen to produce designs for the interior of Hatchlands, was one of the first Adam received on his return from Italy. It is his earliest recorded work in an English country house. The motifs that run through our rooms are, appropriately for an Admiral, of a naval and seafaring theme. Dolphins, anchors and cannons feature, watched over by Neptune himself.

Particularly fine examples of Adam’s work include our plasterwork ceilings in the library and staircase hall and the fireplace and ceiling in our saloon. The saloon is amongst the first of Adam’s great rooms, his influence is unmistakeable. Originally conceived as a dining room it now serves as a picture gallery for the Cobbe Collection. The beautifully detailed plasterwork of the ceiling is likely to have been directly inspired by the Roman stucco Adam had studied on his Grand Tour.

Style, achievements and legacy

The Adam brothers rejected Palladianism as ponderous, instead focussing on movement in their architecture and citing Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire as the outstanding example of their work. Robert quickly became one of the foremost architects of his day; he was elected a member of the Royal Society of Arts in 1758 and of the Society of Antiquaries in 1761. In the same year he was appointed architect of the Kings Works, the body that oversaw the building of royal castles and residences.

He went on to design many wonderful buildings including the City Chambers in Edinburgh, Pulteney Bridge in Bath and the Trades Hall in Glasgow. He was also responsible for renovating the interior of Sir Christopher Wren’s Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.

Robert Adam passed away on 3 March 1792. He left nearly 9000 drawings many of which are now at the Soane Museum, London.