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Furniture - Robert Adam's Career

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

Robert Adam was born at Kirkcaldy on 3rd July 1728. He was educated at Edinburgh University, and seems to have possessed an attractive personality, for he was on friendly terms with such noted men as David Hume, Dr William Robertson, Adam Ferguson, and others.

In 1754, having gained manhood's estate and some considerable experience in architectural design, Robert Adam determined to visit other countries, and we hear of him in France, Italy, and on the eastern coast of the Adriatic. It was while on that tour that he fell under the spell of classic design. He spent much time in Western Italy in 1755, and in 1756 we hear of him in Rome itself. Robert Adam was not content with viewing the ruins of ancient Rome, as were most of the travellers then visiting that historical and classical country, but he studied care-fully the dwelling-houses even more so than the palaces, and his companion at that time was Charles Louis Clerisseau, a French architect. The Adam style was founded on classical art, of which during his tour Robert Adam had so many opportunities of studying. He prepared plans and published in book form the result of some of his researches. One of his first efforts consisted of a series of drawings and sketches of ancient architecture which he had made when visiting the palace of the Emperor Diocletian at Spalatro, in Venetian Dalmatia. Afterwards he went to Venice, taking with him Zucchi, the painter, and Clerisseau, the architect. He obtained permission to sketch and make plans, but, unfortunately, owing to the Venetian Senate having failed to notify the Governor of Spalatro of the permission they had given, Robert Adam was arrested as a spy; but no doubt he regarded that as but an episode in his tour, for he was soon released and continued his work for about a year, when he returned to London.

The experience gained by Robert Adam during the years he spent in travel proved of incalculable value to him in later days. Indeed, he was helped by them to formulate that style which he was able to apply so extensively in after years. During his researches in Italy, Adam had learnt the recipe for making composition ornaments. His secret proved of immense value to him, for he applied it to architectural work, and soon became very expert in designing ceilings, brackets, and panels upon which this composition set extremely hard, enabling him to render them decorative. All through their careers the Brothers Adam made great use of what became known as scagliola, in the composition of which gypsum and Flanders glue were used ; it was a substance which coloured well, and was often made to imitate the rarer marbles.

Robert Adam was brought into touch with Piranesi, who had already published a series of drawings of ancient buildings, and many of the details of antique Roman and Grecian ornament which had been drawn by Piranesi were made use of by Adam, both for exterior and interior decoration, and extensively applied in his adaptation of these styles to furniture.

Robert Adam was materially helped by his brother James, who had also travelled, and there are some of his sketches in the Soane Museum, several of them being dated from Venice, which James Adam visited in 1760. Two years later James made a number of sketches in Rome, and as the result of his tour published a book entitled " Tour in Italy."

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