John Yenn’s Architectural Drawings

Posted in exhibitions by Editor on May 12, 2010

In the Library Print Room of the Royal Academy of Arts, there’s currently a lovely small exhibition on display of architectural drawings by John Yenn. The following text is excerpted from the handout and checklist that accompanies the show. The exhibition was selected by Nick Savage, Curator of Prints and Drawings and Head of the Collections. Neil Bingham researched and wrote all catalogue entries. On Tuesday, 1 June, at 3:30, the drawings will be the subject of a Royal Academy Curator’s Talk.

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John Yenn R.A.: Pioneer of the Architectural Exhibition Drawing
Royal Academy of Arts Library, London, 9 March — 9 July 2010

John Yenn RA, "Design for a Doric garden seat pavilion in Surrey: elevation," 1775 © Royal Academy of Arts, London; photographer M. Slingsby

The present exhibition of mostly theoretical, unexecuted architectural designs by John Yenn R.A. (1750-1821) is drawn entirely from the contents of ‘two boxes of watercolour drawings &c.’ presented to the Royal Academy by Mrs. Augusta Thackeray, the architect’s last surviving daughter, on 21 June 1865. On the first occasion that any of them had been exhibited since the eighteenth century (John Yenn, Draughtsman Extraordinary, RIBA Heinz Gallery, 3 September — 19 October 1973), the then Curator of the RIBA Drawings Collection, John Harris, hailed them as ‘supreme examples’ of the genre, ‘excelled by none in the whole history of British architectural rendering’, a revelation which at a stroke evleated their author ‘to the status of the finest draughtsman of the century’. Furthermore, the discovery in many of these ideal designs of a ‘rogue’ architectural imagination at play, mischievously undermining and subverting Palladian orthodoxy, revealed a previously unsuspected originality that seems, for whatever reason, to have evaporated when Yenn came to design real buildings.

Although it is tempting to let Yenn bask in the warmth of this praise, like so much in his career as an architect it is undeniable that everything that is distinctive about his drawings in terms of technique, presentation, and design content . . . is directly attributable to the advanced, continental-based training he had received in the office of his great mentor Sir William Chambers RA (1723-1796) . . . .

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