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Design for an illumination for the garden at Buckingham House, commissioned by Queen Charlotte, 1763, unexecuted (1)


This structure - though not executed to this design - was a temporary timber frame, erected as a 25th birthday surprise on 6 June 1763 in the garden of Buckingham House for King George III. It was erected while the King was at St James's Palace, in order that on his return the shutters might be opened and he be surprised. Adam's first design for the illumination - of which Adam volume 49/1 is one version - included 19 transparencies, and these were made by applying painted decoration to linen and lighting them from behind. The executed structure reportedly used 4,000 glass lamps, and King suggests that the earlier, larger scheme would have required around 10,000 lamps.

There are presentation drawings for Adam's first proposal and executed scheme in the collection at Windsor Castle, and plate 37 in the first volume of the Works of architecture of Robert and James Adam (1773) shows the unexecuted original design - with which Adam volume 49/1 tallies. In addition, Clérisseau made two drawings for publication, of the original and executed schemes, which were sold at Sotheby's in 1988. The original scheme was used by the engraver for inclusion in the Works. The executed scheme was considerably smaller than the design in Adam volume 49/1, and was used as a beautiful backdrop for a musical entertainment.

Other illuminations designed by Adam were for the Earl of Hopetoun (SM Adam volume 49/65), and Sir Charles Frederick (SM Adam volume 49/66), and there is one further design for an illumination, now held in the V&A Museum, designed to celebrate a royal jubilee in 1786. Rowan suggest this was perhaps for the 25th anniversary of the marriage of King George III and Queen Charlotte.

The entertainment for which the illumination was made for Buckingham House was reported in June 1763 in the Gentleman's Magazine:
'An Account of the Rejoicing made at the Queen's House on Monday, June 6, in Honour of his Majesty's Birth-Day. A most magnificent temple and bridge, finely illuminated with about 4,000 glass lamps was erected in the garden. The painting on the front of the temple represented the King giving peace to all parts of the earth, and at his majesty's feet were the trophies of the numerous conquests made by Britain, and beneath them were a group of figures representing Envy, Malice, Detraction, &c. tumbling headlong like the fallen angel in Milton. In the front of the temple was a magnificent orchestra, with above fifty of the most eminent performers; but what is still more extraordinary is, that all this machinery, paintings, lights &c. were designed and fixed by her majesty's direction in so private a manner, that the first intimation his majesty had of this most elegant and affectionate mark of so amiable a princess, was the suddenly throwing back the window shutters to her majesty's palace, when his majesty entered the apartments between nine and ten o'clock. What his majesty must have felt on receiving, and the Queen in presenting such a testimony of her love and respect, cannot be expressed nor conceived but by those whose lot it was to perceive it in a manner not to be expressed here. Most of the Royal Family were present, and a cold supper of upwards of 100 dishes with an illuminated dessert, also was provided.'



Digitisation of the Drawings Collection has been made possible through the generosity of the Leon Levy Foundation

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Sir John Soane's collection includes some 30,000 architectural, design and topographical drawings which is a very important resource for scholars worldwide. His was the first architect’s collection to attempt to preserve the best in design for the architectural profession in the future, and it did so by assembling as exemplars surviving drawings by great Renaissance masters and by the leading architects in Britain in the 17th and 18th centuries and his near contemporaries such as Sir William Chambers, Robert Adam and George Dance the Younger. These drawings sit side by side with 9,000 drawings in Soane’s own hand or those of the pupils in his office, covering his early work as a student, his time in Italy and the drawings produced in the course of his architectural practice from 1780 until the 1830s.

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Contents of Design for an illumination for the garden at Buckingham House, commissioned by Queen Charlotte, 1763, unexecuted (1)