This remarkable portrait shows the Scottish neoclassical architect James Adam (1732-94) in Italy during the final year of his Grand Tour.

James was the third son of the mason-architect William Adam and brother of Robert, with whom he established the famous family architectural firm in London in 1758.

The Adam brothers were among the most accomplished and influential architects of their time, pioneering the neoclassical style which is still associated with their name today. Their works include important residential terraces in London and Edinburgh, as well as country houses such as Osterley Park and Kenwood House.

The painting is the only known portrait by the Venetian architectural draughtsman and decorative painter Antonio Zucchi, who later worked closely with James and Robert Adam. Among his first works for the brothers were the painted wall panels and ceilings at Kenwood.

Zucchi’s portrait of James Adam is a rare example of a Grand Tour portrait of a professional sitter surrounded by the accoutrements of his profession. The sculptures in the picture, including the Medici vase behind him, are intended to testify to Adam’s classical learning. In front of him is a bronzed wax capital, a model for a new British order of columns, designed by Adam to join the classical orders of Doric, Ionic, Corinthian and Composite. In Adam’s new Britannic order the Scottish unicorn, British lion and British crown replaced the classical decoration.

This portrait was sold having been misattributed as a painting by Pompeo Batoni in 1864 and has only recently been reattributed. It now joins the collections of the National Galleries of Scotland and the V&A as a joint acquisition.

Provenance

Presumed commissioned by the sitter, and possibly included in the Adam sale at Christie’s, 1821 as lot 84 unattributed, “Portrait of James Adam Esq, executed later in life”; acquired by ‘Oliver’, possibly the artist Archer Ja


Scottish National Gallery

The Mound, Edinburgh, Midlothian, EH2 2EL
0131 624 6200
Website

Opening times

Daily, 10am –​ 5pm (until 7pm Thur) Extended opening until 6pm during August

Back to top