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Adam Brothers’ influence inspires a whole new generation – Sir John Soane’s Museum launches online Adam Catalogue

— February 2012

Associated media

SM Adam volume 14/46. Plan of a ceiling for the dining room at Weald Hall, Essex, for Christopher Tower, 1778, as executed. By Courtesy of the Trustees of Sir John Soane’s Museum.

Iconic building designs that have stopped people in their tracks for centuries will be accessible to art, architecture and history enthusiasts worldwide from today as Sir John Soane’s Museum launches its online Adam Catalogue. The drawings are the first batch of 177 from over nine thousand designs which will go global via the worldwide web between now and 2015.

The Adam brothers’ neo-classical buildings and lavish interiors brought a new style to British architecture in the late 18th century, with their ingeniously planned and elegant structures, decorated with an astonishingly coherent variety of classical motifs culled from ancient Roman tombs and palaces.

The Adam Style quickly became the ‘look’ of the Georgian period but became unfashionable equally fast, after Robert and James’ deaths in 1792 and 1794.

Sales of the brothers’ effects failed to attract buyers until Sir John Soane was offered the Adam Office drawings, along with the drawings collected on their Grand Tour for £250 in 1833, managing to secure them at a lower price of £200.

Never one to miss an opportunity to collect historically significant examples of the architect’s craft, Soane bought 54 folios of drawings that had been gathered together by the youngest Adam sibling, William, a man with little understanding of what they were.

‘Wading through the folios was quite daunting at first’, says Adam Catalogue Editor, Frances Sands ‘William’s arrangement of the drawings in albums devoted to “ceilings”, “furniture”, and “follies” might seem logical, but there’s no sense of where things came from or what they refer to – until you discover which drawings came from which architectural commission.’

Luckily Sands has had the help of Ardon Bar-Hama who lovingly photographed the drawings digitally, enabling her to view and catalogue them more easily – and making them available for all to see via the Web.

The large highly-finished presentation drawings, produced to show off proposed designs to patrons, are works of art in themselves, and cost a huge sum of money.

 ‘Unlike the connoisseurs of the Regency period, today’s students and qualified architects, conservationists and design-lovers value the Adam Style for its supreme beauty and elegance. And thanks to generous support from The Leon Levy Foundation and other donors we can now view Adam designs in the finest detail online’ says Tim Knox, Director of Sir John Soane’s Museum.

‘This incomparable collection has been carefully preserved within the Museum for nearly 200 years, and as with his house and collections, Soane would have been delighted that we can share them with everyone – free of charge. We’re doing our level best to ensure that the entire Adam collection is available, online by 2015.’

The Leon Levy Foundation is pleased to be supporting the Adam Drawings project, which will enhance our knowledge of the best in building design for whole generations of modern architects.


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