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Charlotte Street, number 9 (later 4 Bloomsbury Street), London: interior decoration and furnishings for George Keate, 1772-78 (22)

1772-78
Born in Isleworth to George and Rachel Keate, George Keate (1729-97) was a writer, painter and collector of coins, cameos, gems, shells, minerals and insects. He began his career as a clerk, and entered the Inner Temple in 1751. However, he was relatively wealthy, and never needed to practice as a lawyer. Around the same time he also began composing poetry. A Grand Tour followed in 1754-57, during which he met Robert Adam in Rome. On marrying Jane Catherine Hudson (1729/30-1800) in 1769, Keate moved from the Inner Temple to a townhouse at 9 Charlotte Street.

9 Charlotte Street had been newly built in the late 1760s. It was one of seventeen houses built on Charlotte Street by the Duke of Bedford, to designs by Stiff Leadbetter (d 1766). In 1772 Adam was commissioned to provide interiors for the house, and later, in 1777, Keate acquired additional land at the rear of his property, enabling him to commission Adam again to design an octagonal extension. Wainwright has suggested that the octagonal extension at the rear of 9 Charlotte Street was intended to serve as Keate’s museum, housing his noted collection. Indeed, this museum was visited by Mrs Delany in 1779.

It is not known which of Adam’s designs for the house were executed, but we do know that at least one of his ceiling designs did come to fruition, as in 1787 Keate wrote The Distressed Poet: a Serio-Comic Poem, in which he described taking Adam to court because a ceiling to his design had collapsed. Keate lost his suit, and Adam was awarded £163.14s.4d in 1786. The ceiling in question was described in Keate’s poem as Etruscan, and while none of Adam’s extant ceiling designs for the house make use of the characteristic black and terracotta colour scheme of an Etruscan design, there was an Etruscan-style overmantel mirror frame designed for the octagonal room, so the ceiling in question was most likely in that room.

Adam also designed and executed a ceiling and frieze for an unknown Mr Lyte in the neighbouring house at number 8 Charlotte Street (now 10 Bloomsbury Street) in 1773. The designs for Lyte have previously been conflated by Bolton as part of the project for Keate, but this is incorrect, and they were resident within two separate neighbouring houses. Unlike number 8 Charlotte Street for Mr Lyte which survives and is used as offices, Keate’s house at number 9 was destroyed in the Blitz.

See also: Charlotte Street, number 8 (now 10 Bloomsbury Street), London.

Literature:
A. T. Bolton, The architecture of Robert Adam, 1922, Volume II, Index, pp. 36, 77; E. Harris, The furniture of Robert Adam, 1963, pp. 22, 54, 71, 76-77, 87-88; C. Wainwright, ‘The ‘distressed poet’ and his architect: George Keate and Robert Adam’, Apollo, January 1996, pp. 39-44; D. King, The complete works of Robert & James Adam and unbuilt Adam, 2001, Volume I, pp. 317, 423; ‘Keate, George (1729–1797)’, Oxford dictionary of national biography online

Frances Sands, 2014
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