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Painshill, Cobham, Surrey: design for a ceiling and pedestal for the Temple of Bacchus for the Hon. Charles Hamilton, 1761 (5)

Signed and dated

  • 1761


As the 9th son of the 6th Earl of Abercorn, the Hon. Charles Hamilton's (1704-86) income was limited, and during his two Grand Tours he supplemented it through art dealing. On his return he took up positions as MP for Strabane (1727-60), and Truro (1741-47), as well as being the receiver-general in Minorca (1743-57), and he held a position in the Prince of Wales's household (1738-47). By 1737 he had enough income to start buying up 200 acres of heath land near Cobham in Surrey, and this was to become his estate at Painshill. Hamilton worked on the landscape at Painshill between 1738 and 1773 until he was forced to sell the estate in order to honour his debts.

He purchased - or possibly smuggled - an over-life-sized composite Greek statue of Bacchus from Italy in 1732, at the end of his second Grand Tour. Unlike many of his other purchases he kept the Bacchus statue for himself, and the Temple of Bacchus was constructed overlooking the lake specifically to house it. It is not known if the fabric of the temple was designed by Adam. It was a small structure (now destroyed), built of wood, plaster and papier-mâché; completed in 1762, and surviving until the 1950s. Its degeneration was accelerated by the removal of the Doric portico from its principal front in 1925, which was added to the east front of the main house. A photograph from 1948 of the temple in a dilapidated state, and without the Doric portico, can be seen in N. Kitz's article 'Adam's Early Folly'.

The only drawings for this building to survive are these for the ceiling, and for a pedestal, of which twelve were executed to support antique busts of Roman emperors. It is not known if Adam's ceiling design was executed although surviving fragments of plasterwork suggest that it was. The statue of Bacchus was sold for £2,000 at Christies in 1797, and is now in the possession of the National Trust at Anglesey Abbey. The new owner of the estate, Benjamin Bond Hopkins, immediately rebuilt the main house to a design by Richard Jupp (1728-99). The temple was largely abandoned following the removal of its sculpture. The entire estate fell into disrepair until it was purchased by Elmbridge Borough Council in 1998, forming the Painshill Park Trust. The Trust intends to reconstruct the Temple of Bacchus to house a cast of the original Bacchus statue.

A.T. Bolton, The architecture of Robert and James Adam, 1922, Volume II, Index p. 7; E. Harris, The furniture of Robert Adam, 1963, pp. 51, 99; I. Nairn, and N. Pevsner, The buildings of England: Surrey, 1971, p. 404; N. Kitz, 'Adam's Early Folly', Country Life, 13 December 1979, p. 2335; D. King, The complete work of Robert & James Adam and unbuilt Adam, 2001, Volume I, p. 381; T. Richardson, 'Painshill, Surrey', Country Life, 4 January 2001, pp. 29, 34; A. Laing, 'Bacchus the wanderer: the peregrinations of an antique statue between Painshill Park and Anglesey Abbey', Apollo, National Trust house and collections issue, 2008, pp. 22, 24, 26

Frances Sands, 2011



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Contents of Painshill, Cobham, Surrey: design for a ceiling and pedestal for the Temple of Bacchus for the Hon. Charles Hamilton, 1761 (5)