One of the greatest British architects of the 18th century and the originator of the delicate neoclassical Adam style of decoration, Robert Adam was born at Kirkcaldy, Fifeshire, Scotland, on July 3, 1728, the second son of William Adam, the foremost Scottish architect of his time. William, who as Master Mason to the Ordnance in North Britain supervised the design of military buildings, also ladian style—the modified classic Roman style that was originally developed by the 16th-century architect Andrea Palladio.
The Adam children grew up in the cultured atmosphere of a propertied and well-connected 18th-century family. Shortly after Robert’s birth, the family moved to Edinburgh, where, at the age of six, he entered the Edinburgh High School. In 1743 he enrolled at Edinburgh College (now University of Edinburgh), but in 1745 he abandoned his studies and the following year entered his father’s office as an apprentice and assistant.
William Adam died in 1748, and his post as Master Mason to the Board of Ordance passed to his eldest son, John, who took Robert into partnershi0p; and in the succeeding few years both benefitted from the lucrative contracts that resulted from the appointment. Besides building Ft.George in the Moray Firth near Inverness, the Adam brothers were also engaged on another important assignment—the completion of the interior of the Earl of Hopetoun’s house. In their interiors, the brothers introduced into Scotland a new, lighter, almost Rococo, style of decoration. The other important private commission of these years was Dumfries House, Ayrshire, for Lord Dumfries.
In 1754 Robert, who by then considered himself to be worth £5,000, was invited to accompany the Honorable Charles Hope, the Earl’s younger brother, to Italy. He thus had the opportunity to realize the dream he had been saving for since his father’s death, and just as important, he had the social advantages of travelling the brother of an earl. He was as much concerned with meeting young noblemen abroad as with acquiring more architectural knowledge from a study of the monuments of Roman antiquity. The letters he wrote to his family during his years abroad give a picture of Robert as a madly ambitious young man, an arrogant social climber, and yet still a dedicated artist. (S.Mi.)
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