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A COLLECTION OF 18th CENTURY CHIMNEY-PIECE DESIGNS
Inigo Jones (d.1652) established the 17th Century Roman style of chimney-piece architecture by bringing exterior temple ornament across the British threshold to serve as the focal point of a room. This robust antique style was revived in the early 18th Century under the direction of Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington and his protégé the Rome-trained artist/architect William Kent (d.1748), whose work was popularised by John Vardy's 1744 publication of, Some Designs of Mr Inigo Jones and Mr. William Kent. By then the fashion was being challenged by a variety of other styles such as the French 'picturesque', illustrated by Lord Chesterfield's architect Isaac Ware in, A Complete Body of Architecture Improved, 1741, which was reissued as Gothic Architecture, in 1747. The contemporary enthusiasm for novelty and variety was to fuse these three styles with that of the Indian/Chinese to create the whimsical George II 'Modern' style illustrated in Thomas Chippendale's, Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker's Director, 1754. The later 1750s saw the invention of a lighter and more graceful style of 'antique' with the establishment in London of the Rome-trained architects James 'Athenian' Stuart (d.1788), Sir William Chambers (d.1796) and Robert 'Bob the Roman' Adam (d.1792). Adam, granted together with Chambers a court appointment by George III, was to boast of having revolutionised interior decoration The Works in Architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1773. The brothers' Adamite or Adelphic style, inspired both by Roman and Renaissance interior decoration, did indeed introduce a harmony of composition, so that the frieze of a chimney-piece often correspoded to that of the room's wall-cornice, its door entablatures and even its furnishings.
The hearth formed a particular point of attention in the more stately 18th Century apartments, where all the furniture stood ranged round the walls. It merited particular attention in its design by architects, sculptors, designers, carvers and others, and this in turn helped boost the Nation's Cardinal Art of Sculpture.
Executed in wood, stone or marble, the chimney-piece would be one of the first of the interior elements of design to be completed. The finished chimney-piece, sculpted and carved by skilled craftsmen, was a beautiful and complex work of art and the presentation drawings made by the architcet designers for their client's approval equally so. The present group of drawings of chimney-pieces includes work by William Kent (1685-1748), Sir Robert Taylor (1714-1788), Sir William Chambers (1723-1796), James 'Athenian' Stuart (1723-1788), Joseph Wilton (1722-1803) and Robert Adam (1728-1792).
We are grateful to Richard Garnier, John Harris and Charles Hind for their help in preparing the following catalogue entries.
The cataloguing of architectural drawings is slightly different to those by other artists: it is accepted practice to catalogue both finished drawings by office draughtsmen under the supervision of an architect and unfinished working drawings by an architect, as their autograph work; with design the importance of the work is in the conception.