07 August 2015

Rare portrait of Kenwood architect, James Adam, on display

A painting not seen in almost 150 years is being loaned to English Heritage for temporary display at Kenwood from 7th September 2015 to 4th January 2016.

Portrait of James Adam by Antonio Zucchi

The painting is a Portrait of James Adam, oil on canvas dated 1763, by Antonio Zucchi. Recent cleaning has uncovered the artist’s signature, which can be faintly made out on the altar with the date and the place where the portrait was painted inscribed in Latin. The fact no other portrait is apparently recorded by the artist has rather surprisingly been overlooked until now.

James Adam, along with his better known brother Robert, worked on Kenwood, creating the present splendid suburban villa that visitors see today. Zucchi, whom James encountered in Rome whilst on the Grand Tour, entered the Adam Office some years later and painted the ceilings at Kenwood as one of his first undertakings for the architects. The Portrait of James Adam marks this very fruitful collaboration between architects and painter at Kenwood and is also a highly important and rare image of James Adam. Moreover, the painting has not been seen by the public since 1867.

Antonio Zucchi went on to become one of the most significant artists to collaborate with Robert and James Adam on the decoration of their buildings. He was born and trained as a painter in Venice where he met the brothers studying buildings and collecting Classical sculpture. James employed Zucchi on his Tour as a draughtsman recording what they saw.

Inspired by portraits of those on the Grand Tour by the better known Pompeo Batoni, Zucchi painted James Adam as both an architect and a man of fashion, with a particular interest in classical statues and ornaments, emphasising his expertise with a slightly fanciful rendition of the famous Medici vase as a suitable backdrop.

James and Robert Adam’s and Antonio Zucchi’s involvement at Kenwood dates to the ownership of William Murray (1705-1793), 1st Earl of Mansfield. He purchased Kenwood as a suburban retreat in 1754. In about 1766, he and his wife Elizabeth became guardians of their grand-nieces – Lady Elizabeth Murray and Dido Elizabeth Belle. Kenwood proved too small for this expanded household and Murray’s appointment as Lord Chief Justice also meant that he needed a residence more suitable to his status. He turned to Robert and James Adam (fellow Scots) to remodel the old house.

From 1767 to about 1779 Kenwood was transformed by the brothers through the additions of a new second storey that housed nurseries and bedrooms, the magnificent north and south elevations that disguised the irregular plan of the original house, a dining room – entrance hall, a ‘Great Stair’ and the ‘Great Room’ or library with its adjacent antechamber.

The earliest surviving plans of the house and designs for the library and antechamber were drawn by James Adam. His brother Robert revised these initial ideas. However, the basic form of the Library remained as initially drawn by James and in the case of the ante-chamber James’s austere but elegant design was executed without alteration and recently returned to its former glory by English Heritage in November 2013.

Zucchi was employed to execute the painted elements at Kenwood, which were completed in 1769. These included the painted panels decorating the vault, walls and the over door to the Great Room, showing classical allegorical and mythological subjects. In 1773 he then painted the ceiling decorations of the entrance hall, dominated by the central roundel showing Bacchus and Ceres painted en grisaille (in monochrome).

Dr Jerzy Kierkuc-Bielinski, English Heritage Curator of Art Collections at Kenwood said: “We are thrilled to be able to exhibit this portrait to the public at Kenwood. The artistic relationship between Antonio Zucchi and the Adam brothers was especially fruitful – Kenwood being probably their most harmonious achievement as collaborators. The generous loan of this painting by Adam Williams Fine Art Ltd allows the public to glimpse an exceptional and beautiful testament to our architectural history”.


The loan of this painting has been made possible through the generosity of Adam Williams Fine Art Ltd., New York, and through the great assistance of Theo Johns Fine Art Ltd., London

Kenwood House is open daily with extended opening hours, 1000 – 1700

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