Robert Adam’s Castles
July - September 2000
This exhibition cast Robert Adam, Scotland’s most celebrated architect, in a dramatic new light, reassessing an important but much neglected element of his architectural portfolio, his designs in ‘the castle style’. Robust and sublime, Adam’s castles make a startling contrast to the refined and delicate decorative schemes for which the architect is principally known, and comprise over 10 percent of his career output. Of the realised castle projects, many have now gone and others lie in ruins - an unjust fate for a group of buildings representing the most personal expression of Adam’s art.
Encompassing over 60 drawings taken from the unrivalled collection of Adam work held by the Soane Museum, and including a number of loans from public and private collections in Scotland, this exhibition revealed, for the first time, the extraordinary range of Adam’s castle designs. These are of all sizes from small garden buildings to vast castellated palaces. The former category includes the unbuilt ruined castle for the gardens at Osterley Park, and the latter is represented by impressive examples at Barnbougle and Beaufort. A distinctive feature of Adam’s domestic castles is their ingenious and striking geometrical planning such as at Airthrey Castle near Stirling (1790).
Also included in the exhibition were a selection of Adam’s stunning watercolour views of castles in landscapes. Pure fantasy, these developed from an almost obsessional exploration of the castle picturesquely situated in dramatic scenery with mountains and waterfalls. He produced huge numbers of these watercolours during the 1770s and 80s and valued them so highly that he gave over 1,000 to his sisters as security when the failure of the Adelphi project threatened to ruin the family firm.
This show marks a long overdue reappraisal of Adam’s castle designs and demonstrate that far from being mere containers for classical interiors, his castles were deeply individual, meticulously wrought, and highly successful, representing a personal achievement unparalleled by any other 18th-century British architect.
Catalogue available at the Museum Shop