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Furniture - The Brothers Adam

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

Family history—Robert Adam's career—Adam's architectural influence—Furniture designs—Practical application—The style and its motif

THE Adam influence, or the inspiration of the Brothers Adam, upon art from the middle of the eighteenth century to the present day is recognised by all thoughtful connoisseurs. Many speak of the Adam vogue with an in-distinct knowledge of the source from which it emanated, and a lesser number know anything about those men who created, as it were, a new inspiration in decorative art. The Adam style, as it was called when it had become more pronounced, influenced the designs of such clever furniture designers as Hepplewhite to a remarkable extent, and what is more noticeable, the Brothers Adam gave a distinct style of ornament to architecture and to the interior ornament of rooms and buildings, so much so that they found it necessary to specially design the furniture to be used in such buildings. The Adam inspiration claimed uniformity in art in many directions, and metal workers, masons, wood-workers, and artists with brush and chisel adopted its chaste style.


Who, then, were the men—for it is obvious there were more than one—who brought about this " new thought " into art ? is a question which may very fairly be asked.

William Adam, the father of the brothers, was an architect of some note at Maryburgh. He also held the somewhat important position of King's Mason in Edinburgh. In that capacity he carried out many public works and designed notable buildings. He was responsible for Hopetoun House, and the old Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh. We learn that this worthy man had four sons—John, Robert, James, and William. When William Adamsen., died in 1748, he was followed in his professional work by his eldest son, John. It was, however, with the two brothers Robert and James, that English artists and furniture makers of that day had to do. It was Robert Adam who made his mark upon the architectural history of his day. James was in partnership with his brother, and their names were often coupled together, especially about the year 1764, but each seems to have had a separate career, and to have worked professionally independently, although in union. In 1765 some of the drawings submitted to clients were signed " R. Adam, Architect," but soon afterwards the curious signature "Adelphi," a classic play upon their name, was adopted. The origin of the term Adelphi " in connection with the brothers should be explained in that their connection with the district, which took its name from them, and which even now owes so much to their enterprise and architectural skill and design, is a matter of some importance. The brothers used the Greek rendering of " brothers " in naming the district on the south side of the Strand, where their offices were situated, and where they built much property. Their offices were at that time in Robert Street, and the brothers became the " Adelphi " of Adelphi. In conjunction John, Robert, James, and William obtained a lease of land on which they built and made streets, the district they named The Adelphi, ultimately comprising Adelphi Terrace and Adam, John, Robert, James, and William Streets. Most of the buildings in those streets stand today much as the brothers left them, a monument to their beautiful architectural work and scheme of decoration.

Mr Cescinsky, in his valuable work on " The Furniture of the Eighteenth Century," referring to the influence of the Brothers Adam, says :—" Their architectural work and designs for furniture have so much in common, always with a distinct leaning in the direction of bricks and mortar, and especially stucco, that the latter, both in material and motif, can often only be styled furniture by straining a definition." In this he is undoubtedly right, for many of the pieces of furniture they designed have a strong resemblance to architecture, and the patterns give one the impression of having been prepared by an architect's draughtsman rather than a furniture designer. The business enterprise which resulted in the building of so many houses in an undeveloped district presented an object lesson to followers of the Adam style. The cost of this property investment was a severe drain upon the resources of the brothers, and they resorted to a remarkable method of raising money, one which would certainly not be open to speculative builders in financial difficulties to-day. In 1773 they were able to obtain an Act of Parliament, authorising them to offer the whole of the property by public lottery, securing thereby the actual loss of building and about £1,500, an allowance towards the expenses of the lottery. Four thousand three hundred and seventy tickets were issued at fifty guineas each, and there were 110 prizes of an estimated total value of £218,500. The tickets were sold in Robert Street, Adelphi, every day, Sundays excepted, from 10 o'clock in the morning to 6 o'clock at night, and in that way no less a sum than £228,425 was realised, a remarkable testimony to the love of gambling and lotteries so strong at that time. In the lottery, it may be mentioned incidentally, houses were described " as fourth, fifth, or seventh west of Adam Street," none of the houses in London being numbered at that time. One of the houses included in the lottery was described as being in the occupation of Robert and James Adam, the two brothers living together and paying an annual rental of £230 per annum—a considerable rental in those days.

The Brothers Adam appear to have combined in them-selves the work of building speculators, architects, and designers of furniture. They were also mixed up with designs for house furnishings, including textiles.

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