David Pullins on ‘Robert Adam’s Chinoiseries’

Posted in lectures (to attend) by Editor on January 27, 2013

From The Soane Foundation:

David Pullins — Robert Adam’s Chinoiseries
Union Club, New York, 11 February 2013

Robert Adam, Chinoiserie looking-glass design for the state bedchamber, Harewood House (detail)Feb. 1769. Sir John Soane's Museum, London (20:73)

Robert Adam, Chinoiserie looking-glass design for the state bedchamber, Harewood House (detail)
Feb. 1769. Sir John Soane’s Museum, London (20:73)

Robert Adam is celebrated today as the leading proponent of neoclassicism in England. If we follow conventional stylistic categories, he would be among the least likely architects to venture into the exoticism of the rococo or baroque; however, in three projects dated between 1766 and 1772, Adam produced designs in the Chinese taste, modifying the existing decorative vocabulary of chinoiserie in accordance with the new neoclassical aesthetic he was so pivotal in promoting. A seeming contradiction in terms, Adam’s neoclassical chinoiserie challenges our assumptions not only about the architect but also stylistic categories.

Apart from a chimneypiece at Kenwood House that incorporates panels from a Chinese marble screen, Adam’s chinoiserie works either do not survive or have been greatly modified. His dressing room for Elizabeth Montagu in Mayfair was quickly reconceived by Adam’s competitor James Stuart and his looking-glass designs for Harewood House were probably never executed due to the discouragement of Thomas Chippendale. In the absence of extent work, an important group of drawings in Sir John Soane’s Museum provides the principal source of information about this unexpected facet of Adam’s career. Through a close examination of these drawings in conjunction with archival research conducted in London, Leeds, Edinburgh and Los Angeles made possible by the Sir John Soane’s Museum Foundation, this lecture attempts to reconstruct what we can know about Adam’s chinoiserie designs and his motivation and tactics in producing them.

Time: Monday, 11 February 2013, at 6:30 pm (doors open 6:15)
Location: Union Club, 101 East 69th Street at Park Avenue
Attire: Business- Jacket and Tie required for mene
Tickets can be purchased online at The Soane Foundation’s website

David Pullins is a Ph.D. candidate in the History of Art and Architecture at Harvard University and currently a David E. Finley Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts (CASVA) at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. David received a B.A. in art history from Columbia University and a M.A. as a Peter Jay Sharp Scholar at The Courtauld Institute of Art, where he began his work on Robert Adam. With the support of a Sir John Soane’s Museum Foundation Traveling Fellowship in 2011, David was able to return to work begun in his M.A. and complete the necessary archival research in London and Edinburgh to prepare a forthcoming article on the subject of Adam and chinoiserie.

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