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June 6, 2009

Chambers, Sir William (1723-1796)

Sir William Chambers was born in Gotëborg, Sweden of Scottish parentage in 1723. At the age of sixteen, he joined the Swedish East India Company and voyaged to India and China for nine years. His architectural education began in 1749 under Blondel (1705-1774) in Paris and then in Italy between 1750 and 1755 where he went to see Rome’s ancient grandeur at first hand. In Rome he met Lord Charlemont who was touring the mediterranean collecting artworks and books and was to be his greatest non-royal private patron. In 1757, back in England he was appointed architectural tutor to the Prince of Wales from which position, he became Architect to the King with Robert Adam (1728-1792), Comptroller in 1769 and Surveyor General in 1782. In 1770 he received a knighthood. This royal patronage allowed Chambers to experiment in small scale architectural ornament for Kew gardens. This experience was to provide him with an essential background in the design of the Casino at Marino.

His style is best described as scholarly but eclectic, heavily based on English Palladianism but with overtones of the neo-classicism prevalent in France at the time. After 1759, and the publication of his first book ‘The Treatise on Civil Architecture’, Chambers had risen to the top of his profession allowing him lucrative commissions including the reworking of Buckingham House in London. His best known works are the Pagoda (1757-1762) at Kew Gardens and Somerset House in London and the Casino for Lord Charlemont at Marino in Dublin. Other works in Dublin included work at Trinity College where he designed the Examination Hall and the Chapel in the main college quadrangle. Apart from the Casino, Chambers also designed Charlemont House (1763) for Lord Charlemont – now the Municipal Gallery of Modern Art in Parnell Square and Lucan House in County Dublin. Chambers completed these commissions even though he never set foot in Ireland through his lifetime. After Chamber’s death in 1796, Lord Charlemont wrote these lines about the architect who had become his friend:

Sir William Chambers, Knight, Etc.,
Fellow of the Royal Academy,
And Professor of Architecture,
The Best of men, and the First of English Architects,
Whose Buildings, Modelled From His Own Mind,
Elegant, Pure, and Solid,
Will Long Remain the Lasting Monuments,
Of That Taste,
Whose Chastity Could Only be Equalled,
By The Immaculate Purity of The Author’s Heart,
James, Earl of Charlemont, His Friend,
From Long Experience of His Worth and Talents,
Dedicates The Inscription
To Him And Friendship.

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