“Robert Adam’s Neoclassical Chinoiserie”

Between 1766 and 1772, the architect Robert Adam received three commissions for a seemingly antithetical kind of decoration: neoclassical chinoiserie. This article brings together for the first time all archival and material evidence detailing the history and appearance of these little-known works, only one of which survives today. Through a close formal analysis of the designs and presentation of Adam’s possible sources, an interpretation is offered that places these designs as a means of ornamental transition between the public and private spaces of the houses for which they were intended and positions them as a surprising solution to combining European and East Asian influences, the classical and the exotic, the canonical and the novel.

“I fear Mr. Adams is an inflexible Grecian,” wrote Elizabeth Carter to her friend and Adam’s future patron, Elizabeth Montagu, in October 1765.1 Within the year, however, the neoclassical architect Robert Adam would provide Montagu with chinoiserie ceiling, carpet, and seat-cover designs for her dressing room at 23 Hill Street, London. This was the first of Adam’s three chinoiserie projects documented by drawings in Sir John Soane’s Museum.2 In 1769 Adam would produce two chinoiserie looking-glass designs for the state bedroom at Harewood House, Leeds, and in 1772 he would design and install a chinoiserie chimneypiece in the upper hall at Kenwood House, Hampstead.

Adam’s detours from classicism into gothic have been explained through burgeoning national interest in native English architecture, and his Etruscan and Grecian modes can be framed through contentious debates about the origins of western European architecture.3 They have done little to compromise the synonymity of his name with a widely diffused, even popularized neoclassicism between the 1760s and his death in 1792. As the formal and cultural “other” to Adam’s meticulously constructed professional identity, however, his previously unexamined chinoiserie designs present historians with a different set of problems. Throughout the eighteenth century, chinoiserie was cast explicitly as the antithesis of classicism, and examples of its use in defining masculine, erudite culture versus a feminized taste for novelty and commerce are legion.4 In 1755, The World published the tale of Lady Fiddlefaddle, who, upon inheriting “beautiful vases, busts, and statues” that came from Italy, had them “flung into the garret as lumber, to make room for great-bellied Chinese pagods, red dragons, and the representation of the ugliest monsters that ever, or rather never, existed.”5 Of the contemporary craze for Chinese wallpaper, John Baptist Jackson wrote that those who preferred this “gaudy and unmeaning paper ought to admire, in pursuit of the same Taste, the crooked disproportioned and ugly, in Preference to the straight, regular and beautiful.”6 By bridging classical and chinoiserie decoration, Adam’s designs demonstrate that the antithesis between these terms was more ideological and rhetorical than it was inevitable. Recent revisionist accounts of English chinoiserie by David Porter and Stacey Sloboda in particular have foregrounded chinoiserie’s inherent ambivalence as central to its success: it negotiated issues of class, gender, and national identity, all vis-à-vis a rapidly expanding, international commodity culture.7 Moreover, Adam’s designs make explicit the regularity with which—contrary to the prevailing, unjustly proto-modernist notion of this architect’s all-encompassing vision—Adam was forced to respond to existing decorative schemes and other creative personalities, both of which might be (and often were) alien to a classicizing agenda.8 Much like patrons for whom chinoiserie served as a means of fashioning an “oppositional aesthetic subjectivity,” makers, too, might exercise their skills with greater liberty and, indeed, agency, when encountering a Chinese rather than a classical object.9 These were means of imagining goods that ran directly counter to how newly professionalized architects, and particularly the Adam Brothers, claimed cultural authority through foregrounding alliances with the perceived origins of Western culture. Asking how Adam’s neoclassical chinoiserie designs functioned in the broader decorative program of the houses for which they were intended, particularly in interstitial zones, offers clues about the ways in which ornament helped to organize social space in eighteenth-century England for rooms that sat uncertainly between private and public.10

Elizabeth Montagu’s first-floor, formal dressing room had been in the Chinese taste since at least 1750 when she described it to her sister as “like the Temple of some Indian god […] The very curtains are Chinese pictures on gauze, and the chairs, the Indian fan sticks with cushions of Japan satin painted.”11 In the same year Anne-Marie du Bocage recorded breakfasting “at my Lady Montaigu’s [sic] in a closet lined with the painted paper of Pekin [sic].”12 Montagu was still occupied with furnishing the room two years later when she lamented her difficulties with the cabinetmaker William Linnell, who produced an important suite of japanned furniture for the room (fig. 1).13 Chinoiserie’s diversion from verisimilitude was clearly evident to Montagu, who mused to her confident Gilbert West, “If Mr. Linnell designs to gild the bird he sent me a drawing of it will look like the sign of a laceman’s door. If japanned in proper colours it will resemble a bird in only colour, for in shape it is like an horse.”14

Fig. 1. William Linnell, secretaire-commode, ca. 1752. Wood painted to resemble lacquer. Private collection.

By December 1765, however, Montagu anticipated changes to the room. In a letter to Carter she wrote, “I rejoice that we may so soon meet in the Chinese room when the elements are much mitigated, as befits the winter season.”15 This “mitigation” of the existing decoration was entrusted to Adam, who in a letter of December 31, 1765, reported, “I hope this month we shall nearly finish your room in Hill Street. The gilders are at work and I am doing all I can to push them on […] The Chimney piece is up and I am convinced you will like it […] the taste of it harmonizes with the other ornaments in the Room.”16 It therefore must have been in early 1766 that Adam provided designs for Montagu’s classicized chinoiserie carpet, ceiling, and seat covers, as well as the conventional classical chimneypiece (figs. 2, 3, and 4).17 Most of the work appears to have been approved by June, when Montagu’s sister reported from Hill Street, “Mr. Adams [sic] called on me two days ago with the pattern for your chairs. I got the silk that afternoon & sent it to him to be drawn […] They will be very pretty & match the carpet greatly; but will make a great deal of work.” She also relayed that Adam had brought with him “the pattern of the ceiling […] He has promised to get the people about preparing it directly.”18 Shortly thereafter Montagu sent her approval of the seat covers on what were probably green japanned frames: “Why[,] let the chairs be green! I am sure they will be pretty in themselves and as gold and colours will be embroidered upon them I believe they will not disagree with the carpet.”19 By July Montagu had apparently given in to Adam’s case for a new chimneypiece as well, writing, “Mr Adam is a traitor to betray me into this vanity of a marble chimneypiece.”20

Fig. 2. Robert Adam office, Carpet for Mrs Montagu, 1766. Pen and colored washes on paper. Sir John Soane’s Museum, London (SM Adam volume 17/166). Photo: © Sir John Soane’s Museum, London.

 

Fig. 3. Robert Adam office, Ceiling for a Room at Mrs Montagu’s House in Hill Street, 1766. Pen, pencil, and colored washes on laid paper. Sir John Soane’s Museum, London (SM Adam volume 11/200). Photo: © Sir John Soane’s Museum, London.

 

Fig. 4. Robert Adam office, Chair Bottom for Mrs Montagu, 1766. Pen and colored wash on paper. Sir John Soane’s Museum, London (SM Adam volume 49/52). Photo: © Sir John Soane’s Museum, London.

In their distribution of forms, Adam’s designs held antique pedigrees. The eight radiating roundels of the ceiling design were based on a vaulted ceiling from the palace of Augustus published as plate LVIII of Bernard de Montfaucon’s Supplement au livre de l’antiquité expliquée (Paris, 1724).21 The peltoid shields and lambrequins (which recur on the seat cover design) were traced to classical ornament through Raphael’s well-known grotesques in the Vatican loggie (1519). In keeping with Adam’s practice, the carpet echoes the ceiling, with a similar distribution of elements around a central patera. The pattern of the wide geometric band is taken from Sebastiano Serlio’s engravings of antique coffering in Tutte l’opere d’architettura et prospetiva (Rome, 1537–75), a regular source for floors as well as ceilings in England beginning in the 1750s.22

Adam’s most obvious departure from classical sources is reserves filled with chinoiserie figures and landscapes, probably based on Matthias Darly and George Edwards’s New Book of Chinese Designs (London, 1754) or one of its many derivatives.23 This concession to the room’s existing decoration and furniture is extended more subtly into the surrounding ornament, which plays at a game of origins no doubt appreciated by Adam, Montagu, and her highly intellectual social circle. Adam’s excessive use of lambrequin and peltoid shield forms—some sixteen of each on a single ceiling—find a formal echo in the upturned roofs of pagodas and parasols, both recurrent chinoiserie devices that appear in the reserves and on Linnell’s japanned furniture. The dramatically upturned calyx leaves and fan-shaped paterae dividing the roundels further emphasize this ambiguous form. Eight small bells at the edges of the ceiling design make Adam’s ornamental engagement with chinoiserie explicit. As much as pagodas and parasols, bells were a standard signifier of China. In James Cawthorn’s satirical poem “On Taste” (1756), he wrote, “Of late, ’tis true, quite sick of Rome and Greece / We fetch our models from the wise Chinese,” and soon, “Our farms and seats begin / To match the boasted villas of Pekin / On every hill a spire-crowned temple swells / Hung round with serpents and a fringe of bells.”24

This chinoiserie inflection to ostensibly classical ornament continues in Adam’s carpet design. Serlio’s soundly classical coffering resonates in this context with the geometric designs of Chinese paling, an extremely popular feature of English chinoiserie pattern books from the early 1740s and a defining element of Linnell’s furniture.25 In Linnnell’s secretaire-commode paling is used in the openwork lattice door-fronts as well as in relief down the legs and onto the floorlevel stretcher, where this exotic geometric pattern shared a horizontal plane with Adam’s reference to Serlio in the carpet. This formal sympathy between architect and cabinetmaker was further ensured through Adam’s use of a band of swags at the carpet’s outermost edge, which, when placed beneath Linnell’s secretaire, would directly echo the arcs of the piece’s front and side stretchers.

While no textual evidence exists to indicate Adam’s opinion of this project, his designs’ playful engagement with two traditionally distinct categories of ornament and his integration of his predecessor Linnell’s furniture attest to the creative stimulation—possibly even pleasure—that the challenge engendered. In the period 1768 to 1772, Montagu employed Adam’s rival, James Stuart, to modify the room, but Montagu’s correspondence with her sister in January 1767 indicates that initially she was extremely pleased with the result.26 In a contemporary letter to Henry Home, Lord Kames, she reiterated her satisfaction, writing, “He [Adam] made me a ceiling and chimney-piece, and doors, which are pretty enough to make a thousand enemies: Envy turns livid at the first glimpse of them.”27 This seemingly innocuous, if hyperbolic, statement is nuanced by Montagu’s response to Kames’s request that she contribute her opinion on ornament to the fourth edition of his celebrated Elements of Criticism (1762; fourth edition 1769).28 Her own, unpublished “Science of Ornament,” which she outlined in a letter to Kames dated April 13, 1767, demonstrates her facility in the language of ornament and emphasizes the importance she placed on origins in determining the suitability of a motif to its place of application. She makes regular reference to Adam and her experience in commissioning the Hill Street dressing room. “If a Christian Bishop should send to my friend Mr. Adams [sic], to build him a Chapel in the Grecian taste, you would see him Adorn it with the Oxheads and Patera [sic]”—“Heathenish stuff” in contrast with the “Bishops Mitre, the Pastoral staff, and St. Peters Keys” that she considered more appropriate. In order for ornament to attain dignity, however, historical precedent was important. “I look with pleasure on some instruments of Sacrifice in my white Marble chimney piece,” she writes of her example at Hill Street, “but if Mr. Adam had put me such a group of Modern Cutlery I should have been Offended.” Through the interpretation of and reflection on the identification of ornament’s historical and geographic sources—and no doubt their juxtapositions—“the eye of imagination in its fine phrenzy rolling, catches with rapture a glance of an intellectual World or looks through the perspective of Ages with sacred veneration on Objects celebrated in history, or immortalized in verse.”29

This sophisticated sense of ornament’s potential meanings and appropriateness helps to explain the unexpected decoration of Montagu’s dressing room, which occupied an interstitial space between public and private sections of the townhouse, namely, between the formal reception room running across the street front and Montagu’s formal bedchamber across the garden front. While classicism was appropriate to the most public areas and chinoiserie typical of bedchambers and domestic spaces gendered female, the formal dressing room offered a space of ornamental transition in the modestly scaled townhouse’s condensed progression of rooms. Following Adam’s intervention, Montagu described it to her sister as “ just the female of the great room.”30 As Sloboda has argued for the decoration that Adam’s replaced, chinoiserie served this female patron’s ambitious social ends by couching her in material luxury (thereby attesting to her buying power and global reach), while strategically undercutting this persona through a self-effacing rhetoric of whimsy and playfulness (precisely the engaging tone struck in Montagu’s correspondence).31 Moreover, Adam’s neoclassical chinoiserie played appropriately at the social implications of moving into a more intimate space as visitors negotiated their relationship to their hostess—with the novelty of the decoration no doubt also providing fodder for the kinds of social performance through which her admiration and interest might be procured, thereby affording both hostess and guests with the frisson of shifting subjectivities.

While less is known about Adam’s subsequent chinoiserie projects at Harewood in 1769 and Kenwood in 1772, they clearly built on the formal solutions and social purposes developed for Montagu. They also engaged literally with objects imported from China, thereby further compromising Adam’s authorial identity vis-à-vis both a foreign other and the cabinetmakers for whom such imported goods and their incorporation were stock in trade.

Comprising seventeen separate interiors, Harewood was the largest interior decorative commission of Adam’s career and occupied him between 1765 and 1782, with most interior work coming to an end by 1771.32 His chinoiserie looking-glass designs, here argued to have been intended for the state bedroom, are dated 1769 and would have joined Adam’s otherwise fully neoclassical wall and ceiling decoration (figs. 5 and 6). As with all of Adam’s furniture designs for Harewood, the looking-glasses were rejected, however, in favor of designs by Thomas Chippendale, whose firm was entrusted exclusively with furnishing the entire house.33 Having procured the period’s foremost architect, Edwin Lascelles, 1st Earl of Harewood, likewise procured the foremost cabinetmaker. As was typical of Adam’s patrons, he also gave Chippendale the roles of furnishing and decorating all private sections of the house—most notably the bedrooms, to which the firm’s capacities as paperhangers and upholsters were considered particularly germane and from which Adam’s influence was almost entirely absent.

Fig. 5. Robert Adam office, Chinoiserie (caryatid) looking-glass design, February 1769. Pen, pencil, and colored wash on paper. Sir John Soane’s Museum, London (SM Adam volume 20/74). Photo: © Sir John Soane’s Museum, London.

 

Fig. 6. Robert Adam office, Chinoiserie (urn) looking-glass design, February 1769. Pen, pencil, and colored wash on paper. Sir John Soane’s Museum, London (SM Adam volume 20/73). Photo: © Sir John Soane’s Museum, London.

Staterooms such as those found in enfilade across Harewood’s south front occupied neither public nor private sphere comfortably, their ill-defined social role a telling aspect of their disfavor in fashionable circles by the 1750s. In 1763 Philip Yorke observed that the staterooms at Chatsworth were “of little use but to be walked through,” and in 1768 Chippendale himself wrote of his commodes for the state bedroom at Hopetoun, “These in grand appartments [sic] are more intended to furnish & adorn than for real use.”34 The same could be said for the ceremonial function of the rooms as a whole, the primary purpose of which was not to provide quarters for visiting monarchs but rather to provide an opportunity to indulge in objects of enormous expense couched as national rather than family patrimony.35 The presence of chinoiserie in the highly symbolic but ultimately redundant state bedroom provided a means of reading domestic function back into the space, however, by visually communicating its relationship with the unseen, private bedrooms of which it was the ceremonial ghost. Anthea Stevenson, who has worked extensively with Harewood’s inventories, writes that in contrast to most public rooms there was “not a bedroom that did not contain at least one piece of japanned furniture, chintz or India paper” by the end of Chippendale’s campaign.36 The nucleus of chinoiserie at Harewood was the first-floor “Chintz bedroom,” for which Chippendale executed a five-piece suite of green and gold japanned furniture and installed quantities of yellow chintz and panoramic Chinese wallpaper in December 1769.37 Other bedrooms contained some forty-seven “Japan Dressing Boxes,” an “India Japan’d Chest,” an “India Dressing Glass,” and large quantities of chintz, including a “Bamboo Cotton Counterpane” in the “Bamboo Lodging Room.”38

Chippendale’s bill for the state bedroom included “A Ladys Secretary [sic]” and “A large Commode with folding Doors” both “vaneer’d with your own Japann [sic].”39 In addition, the Harewood inventory of 1795 included “2 India Cabinets” and “1 India Chimney Glass.”40 Surviving stands for Japanese cabinets and a frame for a two-panel, reverse-painted Chinese mirror are safely attributable to Chippendale (fig. 7).41 Both remained at Harewood until 1965 and were presumably executed prior to 1773, the first full year for which accounts survive but by which time Chippendale was already owed some £3,024.19.42 Notably, all of these objects were not Chippendale’s work alone, but examples of Chippendale framing and reusing goods imported from China and Japan, readily adapting his own proficiency in woodworking to accommodate alternate makers and geographies.

Fig. 7. Thomas Chippendale, frame for two backpainted Chinese mirror plates, all ca. 1769. Private collection. © Christie’s Images, 1965.

Given the “India Chimney Glass” that Chippendale is known to have installed in the room and the evolution of Adam’s ultimately rejected proposals in 1769, the cabinetmaker should be read as the victor over the architect—due, perhaps, precisely to the latter’s greater facility in or ease with material accommodation. A preliminary sketch in Adam’s hand for the chinoiserie caryatid design (fig. 8) suggests that the Chinese back-painted mirrors eventually used by Chippendale in his realized design initially suggested a horizontal over-mantle. Comparison of this preliminary sketch with the finished drawing indicates, however, that Adam opted to elongate his design vertically, thereby linking his designs for chimneypiece and ceiling. A second preliminary drawing in his hand (fig. 9), closely related to the finished urn design and presumably drawn after he had decided to abandon a horizontal orientation, makes no allowance for the imported mirrors that Chippendale would accommodate. In both finished drawings, however, as if still responding to the absent Chinese mirrors, Adam’s concern for the legibility of the reflective surface is secondary to the interplay between the mirror, the overlaid decorative screen, and the reverse-painted landscape elements. Like Linnell’s Chinese panels and the japanning that they inspired, Adam’s dependence on the metonymic potential of imported Chinese goods supplemented his knowledge as a neoclassical designer, bringing his erudite persona as a gentleman-architect in contact with an alternate form of knowing based on extrapolation rather than diligent quotation. Adam seems, however, to have resisted any outright incorporation of foreign materials.

Fig. 8. Robert Adam, Preliminary chinoiserie (caryatid) looking-glass design, inscribed “M. Lascalles,” 1769. Pencil on paper. Sir John Soane’s Museum, London (SM Adam volume 8/25). Photo: © Sir John Soane’s Museum, London.

 

Fig. 9. Robert Adam, Preliminary chinoiserie (urn) looking-glass design, inscribed “Ed. Lascelles Esq,” 1769. Pencil on paper. Sir John Soane’s Museum, London (SM Adam volume 9/30). Photo: © Sir John Soane’s Museum, London.

Adam reverted to the normative classicism of his larger practice when distributing these designs’ principal elements. His chinoiserie caryatid design (fig. 5) is an example of the Palladian window form that Adam developed for looking-glasses in the 1770s, while his chinoiserie urn design (fig. 6) closely resembles a pier-glass that the architect described as “in the stile [sic] of the Ancients,” executed for Landsdowne House a year earlier.43 He also worked from the solutions he had reached for Montagu, building on the potential for lambrequins and peltoid shields to signify ambivalent origins through their juxtaposition with the standard chinoiserie devices of upturned roofs and parasols. The division between classical ornament and Chinese architecture is further dissolved at Harewood by establishing a formal resonance between the fantasy of pagodas rising to interminable heights found in the chinoiserie reserves and the caryatid design’s vertical foliage and the urn design’s stacked, bell-hung lambrequins. As if echoing the role of roofs in differentiating between East and West, both Adam designs are surmounted by a classical lambrequin, its ends upturned, decorated with the contradictory signs of bells and a palmette.

Within the context of Harewood’s state bedchamber, this playful dialogue between two distinct ornamental languages had the potential to alleviate tensions between the public and private sectors of the house already characteristic of this Janus-faced room type. The complex reflective surface and uncertain relationship established between “real” and decorative elements in Adam’s designs made possible the projection of sight and self into the architecturally restricted space of the first-floor bedrooms.44 While conventional looking-glass forms, such as those for Landsdowne House, provided the illusion of spatial expansion, they ultimately only reconfirmed the viewer’s presence in the immediate space by presenting an integrated image of the self in the space of the reflected room. Adam’s extensive use of overlaid and back-painted elements in the Harewood designs, however, allowed for an intervention in the process of viewing this reflected space. While the mirror operates in tandem with the room to establish the illusion of spatial expansion, the screen of decoration obscures the certainty with which this extension of space is simply a replication of the immediate space occupied by the viewer. These designs take in the public space of the state bedroom only to project a space that is transformed and speaks readily to the ornamental language of Chippendale’s private bedrooms a story above. The body of the viewer is also transported and transformed by the designs’ effect, which works to fragment the body as well as the space, resulting in the momentary and sporadic ability to envision one’s reflected self in the space of “China” or its domestic simulacrum. Adam’s urn design includes masks that offer a decorative complement to this fragmented reflection and through their ambiguously rendered physiognomies suggest the viewer’s loss of self in the departure from the classical stability of the rooms of parade and into an alternately defined space of decoration.

Of course, despite the designs’ recessional qualities and ornamental links that aligned the state bedroom with its functional counterparts a story above, architectural barriers reinforced social constraints in what remained an essentially public space that merely played at being private. The fantasy of access they proposed—as relevant to Adam’s own reach into the family’s private quarters as to visitors’ speculations as to what existed behind closed doors— was built on Adam’s willingness to engage with the cabinetmaker’s art and by extension the art of unknown, decidedly foreign craftsmen.

Chippendale’s integration of objects not of his own design in the form of actual Chinese mirror plates or panels of “your own Japann [sic]” was a practice Adam himself would adopt in his final chinoiserie project, a chimneypiece for the upper hall of Kenwood House installed around 1772 (fig. 10). Adam was active at Kenwood between 1764 and 1783 renovating a suite of existing ground floor reception rooms, including the main stairwell, and creating a new, greatly celebrated library.45 The circumstances giving rise to the chimneypiece are unclear, and the renovation of this room was Adam’s only substantial intervention on the first floor, where the upper hall acts as a kind of cul-de-sac at the top of the main stairwell that dead-ends the public space of the house, terminating its grand spaces before the maze of bedrooms, dressing rooms, and hallways that comprised the Murray family’s private quarters. When Adam published his designs for Kenwood in The Works in Architecture of Robert and James Adam in 1773–79, he summarily and generically described the first floor as “the Bedchamber Story.”46

Fig. 10. Chimneypiece of the upper hall, Kenwood House, Hampstead, ca. 1772. English Heritage.

Kenwood’s upper hall and most of the rooms leading off it had been in the Chinese taste since at least April 1757, when the paper-stainer Thomas Bromwich billed for “10 Yrds Painted Chinese Rail Border,” “23 Doz Painted rail Border put round 3 India Rooms,” and “Putting up Do. & Repairing Indian paper.”47 In 1776, well after Adam’s commission, Samuel Curwen visited the house and described “the walls of the Hall, saloon Chambers &c. covered with paper of India or Chinese figures.”48 Eventually taken down when the north wall was rebuilt in 1815, a small surviving fragment of Chinese paper from the upper hall is of a dense bird-and-flower pattern on yellow ground that was popular during the 1750s.49 An inventory of the room from 1796 includes “3 white Japan’d cornices,” “A white Japan’d sofa, in Green silk damask,” “A set of Chintz cotton cases,” “A splat back Japan’d chair, linen cushion and cotton case,” “A black Japan’d Cabinet,” and “A high 6 leaf folding screen in India paper.” These works are consistent with the high concentration of chinoiserie objects in the bedrooms and dressing rooms of the first floor, the only ground floor exception being Lord Mansfield’s dressing room.50

Therefore, both before and after Adam’s involvement at Kenwood, the decoration of the upper hall remained principally chinoiserie, and the bills of Adam’s carver, Sefferin Nelson, from August 1772 actually refer to it as “the Chinese Room.”51 While details of the commission remain unknown, by the summer of 1772 Adam evidently was tasked with producing a design that would incorporate nine Chinese painted stone plaques taken from a small folding screen of a type produced in southern China.52 Like many products sold to a domestic Chinese market, such screens or the isolated plaques could appear in Europe via the initiative of supra-cargos, though how the Murray family encountered these examples is unknown. Adam’s only surviving drawing for the design clearly indicates the dominant role of these objects from an early stage (fig. 11). Rather than build these objects into a stone surround, the extant chimneypiece is, in fact, made of carved wood painted white. This choice would have tied his design to the white japanned furniture and window cornices documented in the room in 1796, but it is also a strong indicator of the limited expense the Murrays were willing to commit to the first floor and a material manifestation of assumptions separating the novelty of chinoiserie from the permanence of classicism. When executing Montagu’s ceiling, Adam similarly chose to execute in plaster only those elements derived from Montfaucon, while chinoiserie components were relegated to easily reversible painted surfaces. As a result, when Montagu commissioned Stuart to renovate the dressing room between 1768 and 1772, he was able to retain the expensive plaster frame established by Adam while simply painting out the chinoiserie decoration.53 Indeed, recent technical study of the chimneypiece suggests that, in fact, a number of the carved and gilt ornamental components were likely recycled materials. Discrepancies between the surviving chimneypiece and Adam’s summary sketch that are perhaps a result of this make it frustratingly difficult to determine the degree of the architect’s involvement with any precision.54 The drawing clearly indicates, however, Adam’s general governance of the scheme and a peculiar commission in which the patron had requested Adam to compromise his authorial identity vis-à-vis foreign makers and objects.

Fig. 11. Robert Adam, preliminary sketch for the chimneypiece of the Upper Hall, Kenwood, ca. 1772. Sir John Soane’s Museum, London (SM Adam volume 23/243). Photo: © Sir John Soane’s Museum, London.

Adam’s incorporation of actual Chinese objects at Kenwood strongly recalls Chippendale’s Harewood looking-glass and the kinds of joint authorship—between both individuals and ornamental traditions—that it implied. The careful balance and productive confusion between neoclassicism and chinoiserie found in Adam’s earlier designs have been lost, however. Rather than use formal sympathies in order to bind distinct vocabularies, Adam’s design is fragmentary, with sharp, awkward transitions between the plaques and their surrounds that evince a stilted, openly combinatory approach. This distance from Adam as a singular author is only underscored by the likelihood that additional Western elements of carved and gilt material were reused rather than produced specifically for the work. The tendency toward acceptance of non-signification as inherent to chinoiserie decoration rather than the assumed hierarchical orders of classical sources is underscored by the almost willful disorientation of the plaques, with horizontal landscape compositions installed vertically in order to clad the sides of the chimneypiece casing. Adam’s uncertainty about how to incorporate the Chinese spolia provided by his patrons is acknowledged tacitly through his heavy reliance on the theoretical and formal solutions of Giovanni Piranesi’s Diverse maniere d’adornare i cammini ed ogni altra parte delgi edifizi (fig. 12). “Whoever thinks that it is the multiplicity of ornaments that offends the eye, and confounds it, is much mistaken […] It is not the multiplicity of ornaments which offends the eyes of the Spector but the bad disposition of them,” Piranesi insisted as part of his endorsement of variety in ornament and the active combination of ornamental traditions. Through prudent combination, he wrote, “I am certain that a multiplicity of ornaments will not present to the eye a confusion of objects, but a graceful and pleasing disposition of things.”55 Piranesi’s contentions helped to justify his own practice, which frequently combined antique with modern fragments for chimneypieces that he sold to Englishmen on the Grand Tour.56 Five such chimneypieces were installed in English houses between 1769 and 1774 and provide evidence of the widespread interest in both the various origins of ornament voiced in Montagu’s letter to Kames and the potential of a combinatory approach to their application.57 In his text, Piranesi even briefly addresses the question of Chinese ornament. Though it is “far distant from the Grecian, and perhaps more so than the Egyptian and Tuscan, we are delighted to have our rooms and appartmens [sic] fitted up after the Chinese manner. Mankind is too fond of variety to be always pleased with the same decorations.”58

Fig. 12. Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Diverse maniere d’adornare i cammini ed ogni altra parte delgi edifizi (Rome: Generoso Salomoni, 1769), plate 5. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles.

While the impact of Piranesi and his Diverse maniere on Adam is well documented, the Kenwood chimneypiece is unusually explicit in revealing its source.59 The weighty horizontal tablet punctuated by polychrome tiles as entablature and pilaster decoration relates directly to Piranesi’s work in England, particularly to the chimneypiece purchased by Edward and Harriot Walter in Rome between 1769 and 1771 (fig. 13).60 The heterogeneous fragments of the Walter chimneypiece—which combines marble and porphyry, modern and ostensibly antique elements—provide a fashionable, classical counterpart to Adam’s more far-reaching, combinatory endeavor. Exactly contemporary with Kenwood are two chimneypieces that Adam made for Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn at 20 St. James’s Square. The one for the drawing room was created from scratch and all of white marble, but is closely related to plate 9A of Piranesi’s Diverse maniere. The other was made for Lady Williams-Wynn’s dressing room and incorporates three highly colored, encaustic basalt tablets made by Wedgwood and Bentley and evidently given to Adam for incorporation into his design.61 At Kenwood, having abandoned the subtle vocabulary of lambrequins and shields developed in his earlier projects, Adam fully adopted Piranesi’s decorative vocabulary in the surrounds and pilaster capitals. The chariots, mermen, and wyverns are unusual in Adam’s work, but can all be found in Piranesi’s “Chart of Inventions Attributable to the Etruscans” in the Diverse maniere.62 Their execution in gilt wood imitated the gilt metal surrounds popular in Italian polychrome and spolia chimneypieces of the 1770s.63

Fig. 13. Giovanni Battista Piranesi, chimneypiece for Edward and Harriet Walter, ca. 1769. Gorhambury House, Hertfordshire. Image courtesy of Gorhambury Estates.

Adam returned to his earlier chinoiserie projects in only two details: a gilt wood band of Chinese paling and a mirror that opens a space between the cornice’s neatly aligned acanthus fronds. Sympathetic with the lines of the nearby plaques decorated with shoucharacters and the architectural details in the landscape plaques below, Adam’s paling plays off the Greek key intarsia of the hearth that, like Montagu’s carpet design, could be traced to classical sources—albeit with less specificity. Much like the recycled plaques and, possibly, the portions of the carved decoration, however, it seems likely that the hearth was inherited from an earlier design to which Adam may have intelligently responded but over which he had no control. Differences in scale and orientation diminish, if not altogether negate, the strategically deployed dialogue found in the earlier work, and the relationship might not be readable at all if it were not for the insight provided by the earlier designs.

Adam’s insertion of a small mirror at the center of his Kenwood design behind a shallow shelf is unique in his practice, but the space is clearly inscribed “Glass” on his preliminary sketch. Its presence underscores the chimneypiece’s relationship to an ephemeral kind of architecture approaching theater or festival design, and the Murrays would in fact commission an exotic, if not strictly chinoiserie, epergne and plateau with glass elements from Adam around 1776.64 Much like Adam’s Harewood proposals, the mirror also plays on how its viewers—pulled into the space it opens up—locate themselves in the geography of the house between alternate terrains of public and private. From descriptions and inventories it is clear that the decoration of the upper hall remained solidly chinoiserie, though its role as a public space at the top of the main stairwell meant that, like Montagu’s formal dressing room or the Harewood state bedroom, it was also an interstitial social space that might play at the possibility of seeing beyond closed doors. The room’s most overwhelming decorative feature, its Chinese wallpaper with a bird-and-flower pattern on a monochrome ground, actually would have established a screen-like effect not dissimilar to Adam’s Harewood designs in which two spaces are divided by a wall that reads visually as permeable, a form of division that could be moved through, if only with the eye. Adam’s small mirror establishes a voyeuristic line between the immediate space of the upper hall and a false, ill-defined recess. Positioned below eye level and beneath the curling tips of acanthus leaves, this projected space is not easily accessible and encourages a visual path of discovery over one of immediate disclosure. Access would have been further limited if the shallow shelf before the mirror held an imported East Asian object, likely porcelain, in keeping with a long-standing tradition popularized in England by Daniel Marot. As a model for looking, the chimneypiece mirror alerts the eye to the falsity of the socially sanctioned barrier to the nearby bedrooms posed by the wall, a truth exposed more powerfully by the Chinese wallpapers with which Adam’s design held visual and material links through the nine Chinese plaques. An intimate but still public space, the upper hall retained its ornamental links to the classical architect, whose proper province was a story below. Unlike his previous commissions, at Kenwood Adam was forced to contend not only with an especially imbalanced accumulation of Chinese and chinoiserie objects in the room, but also to take on actual Chinese exports in his design. His not entirely satisfactory solution by way of Piranesi and his loose relationship to the authorship of the final product required him to bolt, rather than weave, together ornamental traditions in a manner perhaps better appreciated by proponents of architectural eclecticism at the turn of the nineteenth century than by Adam’s contemporaries, who celebrated his ability to achieve harmony and balance.

A decade before Adam began his three chinoiserie projects, William Chambers took his first professional step as an architect with his Book of Chinese Designs of 1757. As Eileen Harris has noted, a less promising subject for a young classicist could hardly have been found, and Chambers’s Decorative Part of Civil Architecture of 1759 soon served as a necessary corrective.65 In other ways, however, Chambers’s clear separation of geographic origins fit easily into stable categories of self versus other, with the latter incorporated as fully into the literatures of ethnography and curiosity as into design. Chambers effectively insisted on the distinction between two traditions, both of which he acknowledged as antique—even if one inevitably came up inferior to the other.66 In testimony, perhaps, to an ideological resistance to integration quite opposite Piranesi’s combinatory vision, Chambers provided no space for overlap even if, somewhat ironically, his depictions of Chinese buildings with their striking geometric regularity and monumentality could, in formal terms, have been assimilated far more easily than any chinoiserie designs being circulated in the 1750s by the likes of Robert Sayer or Darly and Edwards.

As Chambers was eager to point out in the course of a long-standing professional rivalry, the Adam Brothers were, by contrast, all too willing to modernize the ancients in a manner sympathetic to a client’s comfort and to combine motifs with little regard for their essential character or origin.67 This was, perhaps, overstating the case, as Adam’s caution with regard to Piranesi’s methods makes clear. The projects examined here demonstrate that Adam evidently could not withstand or accept the dissolution of authorship routinely experienced by cabinetmakers or reformulated as a positive theoretical position by Piranesi. But his chinoiserie projects attest to his abilities to accommodate that which fell outside himself. At their most successful, Adam’s chinoiseries challenge assumptions about the distinction between periodization, ornamental modes, and authorial identity, while revealing a remarkable self-awareness, even pleasure, his ability to produce a seemingly antithetical category: neoclassical chinoiserie.


David Pullins is assistant curator at the Frick Collection in New York and a historian of seventeenth- through nineteenth-century art and visual culture, with a specific focus on France. He received his PhD from Harvard University in 2016.

This research was made possible through the generosity of a Sir John Soane’s Museum Foundation Fellowship that allowed for the completion of work begun as an MA thesis while a Peter Jay Sharp Scholar writing under Dr. Katie Scott at the Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London in 2006. In realizing this article, I am particularly grateful for the kind advice of Karina Corrigan, Vittoria Di Palma, Tim Knox, Anna Robinson, Frances Sands, William R. Sargent, Stacey Sloboda, Doris Sung, and two anonymous readers.

  1. 1. Elizabeth Carter to Elizabeth Montagu, 4 October 1765, in Letters of Mrs. Elizabeth Carter to Mrs. Montagu between the Years of 1755 and 1800 (London: F. C. and J. Rivington, 1817), 1:279.
  2. 2. These are Adam’s only known chinoiserie projects, the sole exception being a preliminary sketch (SM Adam volume 54/1/51) for a conventional rococo chinoiserie mirror inscribed “The Right Honourable Earl of Rothes” on the reverse that was evidently in relation to an undocumented commission from the Leslie family in the 1750s.
  3. 3. From the extensive literature, see Stephen Astley, Robert Adam’s Castles (London: Soane Gallery, 2000); “Bob the Roman”: Heroic Antiquity & the Architecture of Robert Adam, exh. cat., ed. Alistair Rowan (London: Soane Gallery, 2003); John Wilton-Ely, “Le ‘stanze etrusche’ di Robert Adam: Una rivoluzione stilistica,” in Convegno Internazionale Il Settecento e le Arti (Rome: Bardi, 2009), 325–39; Paper Palaces: The Topham Collection as a Source for British Neo-Classicism, exh. cat., ed. Adriano Aymonino (Eton, UK: Eton College Press, 2013), 22–39; and vis-à-vis his principal rival, see James “Athenian” Stuart, 1713–1788: The Rediscovery of Antiquity, exh. cat., ed. Susan Weber Soros (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006).
  4. 4. See in particular David Porter, The Chinese Taste in Eighteenth-Century England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010). For a provocative analysis of the education system that gave rise to this appreciation of classical art, see Viccy Coltman, Fabricating the Antique: Neoclassicism in Britain, 1760–1800 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006).
  5. 5. William Whitehead, “Letter to Mr. Fitz-Adam,” The World CXVII (March 27, 1755): 5–6.
  6. 6.The position came from Anthony Ashley Cooper, 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury. John Baptist Jackson, An Essay on the Invention of Engraving and Printing in Chiaro Oscuro (London: A. Millar, 1754), 9.
  7. 7.David Porter, “Chinoiserie and the Aesthetics of Illegitimacy,” Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture 28 (1999): 33–37; David Porter, “Monstrous Beauty: Eighteenth-Century Fashion and the Aesthetics of Chinese Taste,” Eighteenth-Century Studies 35/3 (Spring 2002): 395–411; Porter, The Chinese Taste; Stacey Sloboda, Chinoiserie: Commerce and Critical Ornament in Eighteenth-Century Britain (Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2014).
  8. 8. For the origins of this bias in Adam’s own self-fashioning and its historiographic legacy, see Robert Wemyss Symonds, “Adam and Chippendale: A Myth Exploded,” Country Life Annual(1958): 53–56; Eileen Harris, The Furniture of Robert Adam (London: Alec Tiranti, 1963), 25–30; Anna Ottani Cavina, Geometries of Silence: Three Approaches to Neoclassical Art, trans. Alistair McEwen (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004), 87.
  9. 9. Porter, The Chinese Taste, 30. The question of making is richly engaged in Sloboda, Chinoiserie, 117–35.
  10. 10. From the sizeable literature for eighteenth-century England, see Dario Castiglione and Lesley Sharpe, eds., Shifting the Boundaries: Transformation of the Languages of Public and Private in the Eighteenth Century (Exeter, UK: University of Exeter Press, 1995); Sloboda, Chinoiserie, 150.
  11. 11. Elizabeth Montagu to Sarah Robinson, 3 January 1750, in Elizabeth Montagu, Queen of the Bluestockings: Her Correspondence from 1720 to 1761, ed. Emily Climenson (London: John Murray, 1906), 1:271. On the early iteration of this room in particular, see Stacey Sloboda, “Fashioning Bluestocking Conversation: Elizabeth Montagu’s Chinese Room,” in Architectural Space in Eighteenth-Century Europe: Constructing Identities and Interiors, ed. Denise Baxter and Meredith Martin (Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2011), 129–48; Sloboda, Chinoiserie, 137–42.
  12. 12.Anne-Marie Le Page du Bocage, Recueil des Œuvres de Mme du Bocage (Lyon: Perisse, 1762), 3:12 (dated 8 April 1750).
  13. 13. Helena Hayward and Pat Kirkham, William and John Linnell, Eighteenth Century London Furniture Makers (London: Rizolli with Christie’s, 1980), 1:74–75.
  14. 14. Elizabeth Montagu to Gilbert West, 26 May 1752, in The Letters of Mrs Elizabeth Montagu, ed. Matthew Montagu (London: T. Payne, 1813), 3:182.
  15. 15. Elizabeth Montagu to Sarah Robinson, 31 December 1765, Huntington Library, MO 3166.
  16. 16. The chimneypiece was stolen around 2002. Huntington Library, MO 1.
  17. 17. A partially completed and colored alternate to the carpet without reserves and with a greater use of grotesque elements (SM Adam volume 17/167) and a sketch in Adam’s own hand very close to the finished design but with the ovals upturned (SM Adam volume 54/1/12) also exist. The seat-cover design is similar to that provided for Baron Lord Orde at No. 8 Queen Street, London (1770–71), whose design is inscribed “Design of a Chair back for Baron Lord Ord colour’d in the same manner as Mrs Montagu” (SM Adam volume 49/52).
  18. 18. Sarah Scott to Elizabeth Montagu, undated [June 1765], Huntington Library, MO 5331.
  19. 19. Montagu to Sarah Scott, 15 June 1766, Huntington Library, MO 5839.
  20. 20. Montagu to Sarah Scott, 17 July 1766, Huntington Library, MO 5840. The room’s current location was first published in Rosemary Baird, “‘The Queen of the Bluestockings’: Mrs. Montagu’s House at 22 Hill Street Rediscovered,” Apollo CLVIII (August 2003): 43–49. Problems of its chronology and current state are worked out in David Pullins, “Reassessing Elizabeth Montagu’s Architectural Patronage at 23 Hill Street, London,” Burlington Magazine 150 (June 2008): 400–404.
  21. 21.David Pullins, “China at the Edge of the World: Making Space for Chinoiserie in the Interiors of Robert Adam” (master’s thesis, Courtauld Institute of Art, 2006), 13. On its popularity, see Eileen Harris, The Genius of Robert Adam (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2001), 149. Curiously, the Duchess of Queensbury mentions Montfaucon’s publication in a letter to Sir William Chambers concerning the interior decoration of her Chinese Temple at Amesbury Hall (ca. 1772). John Harris, Sir William Chambers: Knight of the Polar Star (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1970), 196.
  22. 22. Specifically the upper left quadrant of volume I, plate IV. English translations appeared in 1611 and 1670. The pattern here considered was reprinted as Plate XXV in Walter Gedde, Booke of Sundry Draughts principaly serving for glasiers (London, 1615). Christopher Gilbert, James Lomax, and Anthony Wells-Cole, Country House Floors1660–1850, Temple Newsam Country House Studies, no. 3 (Leeds, UK: Leeds City Art Galleries, 1987), 8 and 13. Pullins, “China at the Edge of the World,” 11–12; Paper Palaces, 30–32.
  23. 23. Twenty-one of Darly and Edwards’s twenty-four designs were reprinted by Paul Decker in Chinese Architecture, Civil and Ornamental (London, 1759). Their designs were further mined for Robert Sayers’s popular compendium The Ladies Amusement: Or, Whole Art of Japanning Made Easy (London: Robert Sayer, 1760). See Eileen Harris, British Architectural Books and Writers 1556–1785, assisted by Nicholas Savage (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 177.
  24. 24. The Poems of Hill, Cawthorn, and Bruce (Chiswick, UK: C. Whittingham, 1822), 171.
  25. 25.William Halfpenny’s publications in particular, listed in Harris, British Architectural Books and Writers, 228.
  26. 26. See Pullins, “Reassessing Elizabeth Montagu’s Architectural Patronage,” 400–404, and Montagu to Scott, 8 January 1767, Huntington Library, MO 5846. On Montagu’s use of chinoiserie, see Sloboda, “Fashioning Bluestocking Conversation,” 129–48, and Sloboda, Chinoiserie, 137–44.
  27. 27. Nothing is known of the painted doors’ decoration. Montagu to Kames, 11 February 1766, transcribed in Memoires of the Life and Writings of the Honourable Henry Home of Kames, ed. Lord Alexander Fraser Taytler Woodhouselee (Edinburgh: W. Creech, 1807), 2:47.
  28. 28. The correspondence appears to have been extended, but Kames asks explicitly in Kames to Montagu, 29 October 1766, in Memoires of the Life and Writings of the Honourable Henry Home of Kames, 2:35. Kames even makes mention of the “beauty of Chinese paper” as it followed nature, though he thought it ill advised as proper ornament. Research on their exchange and mutual influence is the subject of a future article.
  29. 29. Montagu to Henry Home, Lord Kames, 13 April 1767, Houghton Library, Harvard University, MS 1365 (146).
  30. 30. All three rooms were essentially public when contrasted with the completely closed sleeping quarters on the second floor. Montagu to Scott, 8 January 1767, Huntington Library, MO 5846.
  31. 31. Sloboda, “Fashioning Bluestocking Conversation,” 129–48; Sloboda, Chinoiserie, 142, 150.
  32. 32. Frances Sands, “Harewood House, Yorkshire,” Sir John Soane’s Museum Collection Online, 2011, http://collections.soane.org/drawings?ci_search_type=ARCI&mi_search_type=adv&sort=7&tn=Drawings&t=SCHEME706.
  33. 33. Anthea Stevenson, “Chippendale Furniture at Harewood,” Furniture History IV (1968): 62.
  34. 34. Philip Yorke, 27 August 1763, “The Travel Journal, 1744–1763,” reproduced in Joyce Goodber, “The Marchioness Grey of Wrest Park,” Publications of the Bedfordshire Historical Record Society 47 (1968): 162.
  35. 35. The state bed itself was frequently the most expensive element commissioned for rooms of parade. This is true at Harewood, where the Chippendale bed cost £250 plus £150 for upholstery. Mary Mauchline, Harewood House (Ashbourne, UK: Moorland, 1992), 153.
  36. 36. Stevenson, “Chippendale Furniture at Harewood,” 63.
  37. 37. Christopher Gilbert, The Life and Work of Thomas Chippendale (London: Studio Vista / Christie’s, 1978), 1:115. “The Day Work Book” (1769–75) kept by Samuel Popelwell at Harewood records that Chippendale’s workmen spent twenty-eight hours “Hanging the India paper in the Chintz pattern cotton bed Chamber” in December 1769 and twenty-six hours hanging chintz. See Christie’s London, Important English Furniture, 4 July 1991, lot 22; Sloboda, Chinoiserie, 145–50.
  38. 38. “An Inventory of the Furniture Etc at Harewood House taken in February 1795,” unpublished transcript held by the curatorial department, Harewood House Trust.
  39. 39. Harewood Accounts, Edwin Lascelles Esq. to Chippendale, Haig & Co., 12 November 1773, Harewood, MS 510. The secretaire is now in the collection of Temple Newsam House, Leeds; the commode was sold in 1973 and is in a private collection. Christie’s London, Important English Furniture, 29 June 1973, lot 58.
  40. 40.“An Inventory of the Furniture Etc at Harewood House.” The secretaire is absent by 1795, having been replaced by a similar work still at Harewood. Also included in the state bedroom in the 1795 inventory is “1 India Box,” though there is no evidence or extant object to indicate a relationship with Chippendale.
  41. 41. The “2 India Cabinets” survive at Harewood; the “India Chimney Glass” is now in a private collection. Christie’s London, Highly Important Sèvres Porcelain, Chinese Porcelain with French Ormolu Mounts and Fine English Furniture, 1 July 1965, lot 54.
  42. 42. Stevenson, “Chippendale Furniture at Harewood,” 62.
  43. 43. From an estimate made for future work in 1766, quoted in Harris, The Genius of Robert Adam, 119.
  44. 44. Sloboda’s sophisticated analysis of the “Chintz bedroom” suggests that a complementary operation splicing public and private was at work in the private apartments. Sloboda, Chinoiserie, 147.
  45. 45. Frances Sands, “Kenwood, Hampstead, London,” Sir John Soane’s Museum Collection Online, 2012, http://collections.soane.org/SCHEME743.
  46. 46. Robert Adam, The Works in Architecture of Robert and James Adam (London: Robert and James Adam, 1773–79), 2:2. Bryant suggests that the bedrooms of the first floor come closest to representing the pre-Adam interior of Kenwood. Julius Bryant, The Iveagh Bequest, Kenwood(London: London Historic House Museums Trust, 1990), 40.
  47. 47. Bromwich bill addressed to “The Rt. Honble. Lady Mansfield,” 23 April 1757, Murray Family Papers, Scone Palace, Box 121 TD 85/25, Bundle 1400. On Bromwich’s trade in Chinese papers, see Treve Rosoman, London Wallpapers: Their Manufacture and Use, 1690–1840 (London: English Heritage, 1992), 16–17.
  48. 48. Samuel Curwen, The Journal of Samuel Curwen, Loyalist, ed. A. Oliver (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1972), 1:142.
  49. 49.Bryant, The Iveagh Bequest, Kenwood, 38; Harris, The Genius of Robert Adam, 195.
  50. 50. “Inventory of 1796” from the Murray Family Papers, Scone Palace, Kenwood House / English Heritage transcript taken by Morag Norris in 2007. Most reappear in an inventory of 1831 but were dispersed in two principal sales; see C. B. King, Ltd, London, Catalogue of Choice & Valuable Furnishings, Including Important Louis XV Ambassadors’ Tables and Other Fine French Furniture. Also Furniture Designed for Kenwood by Robert Adam, 6–8 November 1922; and Christie’s London, Scone Palace and Blairquhan: The Selected Contents of Two Great Scottish Houses, 24 May 2007.
  51. 51. Sefferin Nelson to Robert Adam, 1 August 1772, Murray Family Papers, Scone Palace, Box 121, NRAS 776, Bundle 8.
  52. 52. Bryant, The Iveagh Bequest, Kenwood, 38. For intact examples of Chinese marble tile screens, see, e.g., no. 637 of Christopher Gilbert, Furniture at Temple Newsam House and Lotherton Hall: A Catalogue of the Leeds Collection (Leeds, UK: National Art Collections Fund and Leeds Art Collections Fund, 1978), 1:484–86.
  53. 53. Pullins, “Reassessing Elizabeth Montagu’s Architectural Patronage,” 402.
  54. 54. There is also the issue of nineteenth-century restoration. Jerzy J. Kierkuć-Bieliński, “Beyond the ‘True Taste’: Robert Adam, Sefferin Nelson, and Chinoiserie at Kenwood,” Furniture HistoryLII (2016): 89–110. While pointing to key technical information, Kierkuć-Bieliński also depends without citation on the present author’s MA thesis, “China at the Edge of the World: Making Space for Chinoiserie in the Interiors of Robert Adam.” The author’s work was familiar to him through the open availability of this thesis at the Courtauld Institute of Art Library, London, through the presentation “Robert Adam and His Brothers” (RIBA, September 23–24, 2015), and through a draft of the present article provided to him in the author’s capacity as a fellow at Sir John Soane’s Museum.
  55. 55. Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Diverse maniere d’adornare i cammini ed ogni altra parte delgi edifizi (Rome: Generoso Salomoni, 1769), 5. The text was printed in Italian, French, and English; its combinatory principles built on Piranesi’s Parere su l’architettura (1765). See Rudolf Wittkower, “Piranesi’s Parere su l’architettura,” Journal of the Warburg Institute II, no. 2 (1938): 157; William Rieder, “Piranesi’s Diverse Maniere,” Burlington Magazine 115, no. 842 (May 1973): 309, 313; John Wilton-Ely, Piranesi as Architect and Designer (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1993), 127–36; Sarah E. Lawrence, “Piranesi’s Aesthetic of Eclecticism,” in Piranesi as Designer, ed. Sarah E. Lawrence (New York: Cooper Hewitt; National Design Museum; Smithsonian Institution, 2008), 92–121.
  56. 56. Damie Stillman, “Chimney-Pieces for the English Market: A Thriving Business in Late Eighteenth-Century Rome,” Art Bulletin 59, no. 1 (March 1977): 85–94; and Wilton-Ely, Piranesi as Architect and Designer, 145.
  57. 57.Known Piranesi chimneypieces for English clients include the Earl of Exeter at Burghley House, Lincolnshire (1769); John Hope’s Amsterdam residence (ca. 1769; now Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam); two chimneypieces for Edward and Harriet Walter at Berry Hill, Surrey (1769; now at Gorhambury, Hertfordshire); Patrick Home at Wedderburn Castle, Scotland (1774); and George Grenville (1774; now at in the Banco de Santander, Madrid).
  58. 58. Piranesi, Diverse maniere, 10.
  59. 59. Damie Stillman, “Robert Adam and Piranesi,” in Essays in the History of Architecture, Presented to Rudolf Wittkower (London: Phaidon Press, 1967), 2:197 and 2:203–5.
  60. 60. William Rieder, “Piranesi at Gorhambury,” Burlington Magazine 117, no. 870 (September 1975): 582–89. My thanks to Heidi Treadwell and Viscountess Grimston for their assistance in obtaining additional images.
  61. 61. Harris, The Genius of Robert Adam, 260–61, 265–66.
  62. 62. Opposite page 31. Individual items are labeled “72. A Mermaid,” “73. A winged Virgin,” “111. A Figure with its drapery striated in the manner of a shell.”
  63. 63. Stillman, “Chimney-Pieces for the English Market,” 86.
  64. 64. SM Adam volume 49/29, 49/30, 5/79, 5/80, 5/81, 5/82, 5/83, 5/84. These were evidently ordered for the celebration either of his elevation to an earldom or the marriage of his nephew and heir, David Murray, 7th Viscount Stormont, both of which took place in 1776. Harris, The Genius of Robert Adam, 195. His interest in mirrors and glass should be related to the lost Glass Drawing Room at Northumberland House, London; portions now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London), completed in 1770.
  65. 65. Eileen Harris, “The Treatise on Civil Architecture,” in Harris, Sir William Chambers, 28–129.
  66. 66. Sir William Chambers, Designs of Chinese Buildings, Furniture, Dresses, Machines, and Utensils (London: Sir William Chambers, 1757), i–ii.
  67. 67.Harris, The Genius of Robert Adam, esp. 4–5, 8–9.

Fig. 1. William Linnell, secretaire-commode, ca. 1752. Wood painted to resemble lacquer. Private collection.


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