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Purpose

The Admiralty Screen, Whitehall, London: 1759-60, executed (6)

Signed and dated

  • 1759-60

Notes

Thomas Ripley (1682-1758) built his Admiralty building (1723-26), in brick with stone dressing, repeating the U-shaped plan and pediment from the preceding building of 1693-94 by John Evans (ND). In 1759 the Lords of the Admiralty agreed to sell a portion of the courtyard in front of Ripley's building for £650 to the Westminster Bridge Commissioners for their street widening scheme. Ripley's boundary wall was demolished and a new wall commissioned. Adam is thought to have received the commission for the Admiralty Screen thanks to the influence of two Lords of the Admiralty: his neighbour from Kinross-shire Sir Gilbert Elliott of Minto, and the Rt Hon. Edward Boscawen for whom he was decorating the interior of Hatchlands, Surrey (1759-61).

According to Hussey the ill proportions of Ripley's Admiralty building were accentuated by Adam's 140-foot screen: 'the Admiralty building and its screen harmonise as badly as could be expected of a bluff old sea-dog and a genteel dilettante'. This may be true despite Adam's pedimented pavilions echoing the Ripley building above. It is the simplicity of Adam's colonnaded screen wall that is its beauty, though according to Rowan when the screen was built it was in an unfamiliar, even revolutionary style compared to the neo-Palladianism of the preceding years. As with so many triumphal arches, the central arched gateway of Adam's Admiralty Screen appears to be loosely based on the Arch of Titus, though without the paired Ionic columns, and in place of the customary inscription tablet across the attic Adam included a balustrade. Two of the columns and part of the rear wall were removed (1827-28) in order to allow freer access for the Duke of Clarence's carriage, though happily this damage was restored in 1923. Adam's screen is now as it was executed.

In addition to the Admiralty Screen drawings held at Sir John Soane's Museum there are two engravings in the Works in Architecture of Robert and James Adam: a perspective (I:IV:I); and a plan and elevation (III:XII). This is an unsurprising inclusion as the widely admired Admiralty Screen was Robert Adam's first commission for public architecture in London. Illustrations of the Evans building and the Ripley building with its original boundary wall are to be found in the Survey of London (Volume XVI, plate 58).

See also: Hatchlands, Surrey

Literature:
R. and J. Adam, Works in architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1773, I:IV:I, 1822, III:XII; A. T. Bolton, The architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1922, Volume II, Index p. 34; C. Hussey, 'The Admiralty Building, Whitehall', Country Life, 17 November 1923, p. 687; The Survey of London, Volume XVI: Charing Cross (St Martin-in-the-Fields, Part I), 1935, pp. 45-70; J. and A. Rykwert, The Brothers Adam: The men and the style, 1985, p. 54; D. King, The complete works of Robert & James Adam and unbuilt Adam, 2001, Volume I, p. 34; S. Bradley, and N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: London 6: Westminster, 2003, pp. 250-251; A. Rowan, 'Bob the Roman', Heroic antiquity & the architecture of Robert Adam, 2003, pp. 28 and 30

Frances Sands, 2011

Level

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

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Contents of The Admiralty Screen, Whitehall, London: 1759-60, executed (6)